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LI  E)  R.AR.Y 




A  Bequest  from 
Marion  D.  Pratt 

iu.i,.:3  !'';rrCRY  survey 




Charles  Hirschfeld 

The  Great 




The  Michigan  State  College  Press 

Copyright,  1953,  by 
The  Michigan  State  College  Press 






/^/,  73 

'^'  'y  PREFACE 

This  is  a  tale  of  war,  a  railroad  war,  such  as  flared  up  in  the  United 
States  in  many  places  during  the  nineteenth  century,  when  rail- 
roads were  new  and  fearsome  things.  The  field  of  battle  was  the 
young  state  of  Michigan  about  one  hundred  years  ago,  and  the 
combatants  were  farmers  and  the  biggest  railroad  in  the  state. 
Violence,  arson,  intrigue,  money,  and  public  opinion  were  the 
weapons;  life,  liberty,  and  property  were  the  goals  that  drove  men 
on  in  this  dramatic  conflict  that  stirred  the  state  from  lake  to  lake. 
The  great  railroad  conspiracy,  as  this  war  came  to  be  known 
locally,  has  never  been  truly  celebrated  in  story.  The  extant  ac- 
counts are  partial  in  every  sense  of  the  word  and,  with  few  excep- 
tions, give  only  the  official  version.  The  story  is  worth  retelling,  if 
only  the  more  firmly  to  establish  the  facts  and  present  a  more  rea- 
sonable approximation  of  the  truth. 

The  purpose  of  this  book,  however,  goes  beyond  historical  ac- 
curacy and  dramatic  interest.  If  only  these  had  been  the  aims,  they 
could  have  been  realized  in  much  fewer  words.  The  story  has  been 
told,  rather,  in  a  large  way  in  order  to  give  a  picture  of  an  im- 
portant phase  of  American  life,  of  a  young  and  rapidly  growing 
community  of  the  West  of  the  1850's,  but  one  remove  from  the 
frontier.  The  bare  outlines  have  been  filled  in,  the  thread  of  the 
conflict  has  been  followed  into  its  social,  political,  and  economic 
ramifications.  The  narrative  of  events  has  been  used  as  a  vehicle 
for  presenting  something  of  the  social  history  of  a  community 
Tj  which  was  certainly  not  unique  in  the  development  of  this  country. 
7^     The  result,  it  is  hoped,  is  a  broad  and  vivid  account  of  what 
^  Americans  were  like  in  the  long  process  of  becoming  what  they  are. 
On  one  level,  this  is  a  study  of  the  behavior  and  feelings  of  Amer- 
"^  icans,  at  home,  in  business,  at  the  crossroads  tavern,  in  court,  and 
^  in  politics.    It  is  a  case  history  of  democracy,  illustrating  the  strains 
of  our  political  development  at  the  grass  roots.  Its  themes  are 
^j-^merican  frontier  individualism  exploding  into  violence  and 


agrarian  enterprise  clashing  with  an  expanding  business  dynamic. 
The  flavor  of  the  era  is  sustained  by  using  as  far  as  possible  the 
spoken  language  of  the  time  and  place,  from  the  salty  vernacular 
to  polished  prose.  Here,  in  short,  is  a  snapshot  of  mid-nineteenth 
century  America  when  it  was  not  posing  for  a  textbook  illustration 
against  a  backdrop  of  quaint  propriety. 

More  particularly,  the  book  spells  out  in  one  state  the  conflict  of 
the  farmers  and  the  railroads  years  before  the  Granger  agitation 
roiled  the  Midwest  scene.  It  is  a  good  example  of  a  pre-Civil  War 
antirailroad  movement,  a  phenomenon  often  neglected  by  Amer- 
ican historians.  These  early  struggles  may  have  been  only  the 
inchoate  stirrings  of  agrarian  sentiment  against  the  new  public 
carriers,  but  they  formed  the  tradition  out  of  which  the  agitation 
of  the  'seventies  grew.  Also  involved  were  all  the  complications  of 
intrastate  and  sectional  rivalries,  with  Michigan  businessmen  and 
eastern  capitalists  lining  up  on  both  sides  of  the  local  conflict. 

As  a  study  in  railroad  and  business  history,  the  book  also  deals 
with  the  problems  of  construction  and  operation  in  the  salad  days 
of  railroading.  It  throws  light  on  the  career  of  John  W.  Brooks,  an 
outstanding  American  railroad  builder  and  enterpreneur  who  was 
foremost  in  the  making  of  the  Michigan  Central  Railroad  and 
other  lines  further  west. 

Seen  thus  in  proper  focus,  the  great  railroad  conspiracy  emerges 
as  more  than  a  ruckus  at  Michigan  Centre  in  Jackson  County, 
Michigan.  Its  story  rises  above  the  level  of  melodramatic  insig- 
nificance and  becomes,  I  believe,  an  addition  to  our  understanding 
of  the  American  past. 

Specific  acknowledgements  of  help  in  the  preparation  of  this 
work  are  listed  in  the  first  footnote,  which,  like  all  the  others,  may 
be  found  at  the  end  of  the  text.*  Here,  I  wish  to  take  the  oppor- 
tunity of  thanking  Dr.  Lewis  Beeson,  editor  of  Michigan  History, 
for  permission  to  use  material  which  first  appeared  in  that  peri- 
odical; and  lastly,  Amanda,  for  whom,  after  all,  this  book  was 

Charles  Hirschfeld 
East  Lansing,  Michigan 
Spring  1953. 





.HE  STORY  of  the  great  railroad  conspiraq^  goes  back  to  1846  when 
the  state  of  Michigan  sold  its  railroads  to  private  chartered  cor- 
porations. The  state  had  built  and  operated  two  railroads  since 
1837  as  part  of  a  broad  program  of  internal  improvements  designed 
at  once  to  build  up  the  interior  of  Michigan  and  advance  the  com- 
mercial interests  of  its  cities,  particularly  Detroit.  By  1845  the  rail- 
roads had  not  reached  Lake  Michigan  from  their  eastern  terminals 
as  required  by  law,  and  further  public  construction  and  operation 
seemed  to  run  into  an  impasse  of  financial  difficulties  and  not  al- 
together disinterested  prejudice.  The  Central  Railroad,  which  had 
reached  Kalamazoo  from  Detroit,  was  the  farther  advanced  in  con- 
struction and  the  more  profitable  of  the  two  roads.  It  was  this  road 
that  attracted  the  attention  of  John  W.  Brooks,  a  civil  engineer 
who  had  helped  build  and  operate  railroads  in  New  York  and  New 
England,  and  James  F.  Joy,  a  transplanted  Yankee  who  had  won  a 
position  for  himself  at  the  Detroit  bar.  These  two  young  men,  am- 
bitious and  shrewd,  saw  the  immense  moneymaking  possibilities 
in  a  completed  transpeninsular  railroad  that  would  tap  the  ex- 
panding western  hinterland  and  link  it  with  the  eastern  seaboard. 
Brooks  used  his  eastern  connections  to  interest  a  group  of  New 
York  and  Boston  capitalists,  and  Joy  worked  on  the  Michigan  leg- 
islature; and  in  1846,  the  Michigan  Central  Railroad  Company 
received  a  charter  and  possession  of  the  railroad  from  Detroit  to 
Kalamazoo  for  the  sum  of  two  million  dollars.  At  the  same  time, 
the  other  railroad,  running  through  the  southern  counties  from 
Monroe  to  Hillsdale,  ^vas  knocked  down  to  the  newly  chartered 
Michigan  Southern  Railroad  Company.^ 

Taking  over  the  Central  road  in  the  fall  of  1846,  Brooks,  as  su- 
perintendent of  the  new  company,  and  Joy,  as  legal  counsel,  started 
immediately  to  improve  their  investment  and  realize  their  golden 
vision.  Money  and  men  were  poured  into  a  concerted  drive  to  reach 
the  lake  at  New  Buffalo.  Tracks  were  laid  with  sixty-pound  T-rails 
and  the  latest  model  engines  and  rolling  stock  put  into  operation. 

The  old  line  of  the  road  east  of  Kalamazoo  was  improved  with  new 
grades  and  bridges  and  the  old  worn  strap  rails  were  replaced  with 
the  heavier  T-rails,  By  April,  1849,  the  Michigan  Central  spanned 
the  peninsula,  was  paying  eight  and  nine  percent  dividends  on 
net  earnings  of  almost  $200,000  a  year,  and  the  trains  were  running 
at  thirty  miles  an  hour.^ 

The  drive  for  efficiency  and  profits  soon  brought  the  company 
into  conflict  with  the  farmers  along  the  line  of  the  road.  The  right 
of  way  was  largely  unfenced,  and  the  cattle  of  the  farmers  through 
whose  land  the  tracks  ran  were  easy  marks  for  the  heavier  and 
speedier  trains.  What  incensed  the  farmers  was  not  only  the  killing 
of  great  numbers  of  cows,  sheep,  and  hogs,  but  the  fact  that  the 
company  refused  to  pay  what  they  considered  fair  damages.  Much 
livestock  had,  indeed,  been  destroyed  when  the  railroad  had  been 
owned  by  the  state,  but  the  Board  of  Internal  Improvements,  the 
state's  operating  agency,  had  not  dared  to  antagonize  the  electors 
by  paying  less  than  their  claims.  One  official  of  the  board  had  com- 
plained in  1845  'h^t  the  damages  paid  for  cattle  maimed  and  killed 
had  reached  extravagant  proportions  and  suggested  that  in  cases 
where  no  negligence  on  the  part  of  the  engineers  could  be  proven, 
the  farmers  should  be  made  to  bear  half  the  loss.^  This  impolitic 
suggestion  had,  of  course,  never  been  adopted.  Superintendent 
Brooks,  however,  with  no  concern  for  the  electorate  and  respon- 
sible only  to  the  directors  and  stockholders,  was  determined  to  pay 
as  little  as  he  could  and  make  the  farmers  share  the  risks.  He 
claimed  that  the  cattle  were  trespassers;  that  the  negligence  and 
cupidity  of  the  owners  were  contributory  factors;  and  hinted 
strongly  that  the  farmers  were  seeking  a  ready  market  at  each  cross- 
ing. Brooks  denied  any  legal  liability  for  damages  at  all,  but  of- 
fered, as  a  measure  of  expedience,  to  pay  half  of  the  appraised 
value.  The  aggrieved  farmers  took  this  offer  as  an  admission  of 
liability  and  demanded  full  damages. 

When  these  were  not  forthcoming,  the  issue  was  fully  joined. 
Excitement  flared  up  all  along  the  line  of  the  road  from  Ann  Arbor 
to  Niles  in  the  spring  of  1849.  Near  Niles,  where  the  state  had 
never  operated  the  railroad  and  where  it  was  reported  that  one 
hundred  sixty  pieces  of  livestock  had  been  killed  in  the  twelve-mile 
stretch  between  Niles  and  Dowagiac,  the  farmers  retaliated  for  the 
half-pay  offer  by  committing  serious  depredations,  going  so  far  as 


to  derail  an  engine  by  opening  a  switch.  One  infuriated  citizen 
threatened  publicly  to  tie  up  traffic  entirely.  West  of  Kalamazoo, 
the  farmers,  under  cover  of  darkness,  greased  the  tracks  on  the  up- 
grades with  lard  and  tallow  salvaged  by  their  wives  from  the  car- 
casses, to  the  great  annoyance  of  the  train  crews  who  had  to  get  out 
and  sand  the  tracks  before  they  could  proceed.  Further  east,  near 
Ann  Arbor,  the  tracks  were  actually  torn  up,  presumably  by  those 
who  had  had  cattle  killed.^ 

At  Marshall,  few  evening  trains  passed  without  being  delayed  by 
turned  switches  or  shot  at.  The  violent  outbursts  there  were  broad- 
cast and  justified  by  one  of  the  village's  leading  citizens,  John  D. 
Pierce,  in  a  series  of  letters  to  the  local  Democratic  newspaper. 
Pierce,  Michigan's  first  state  superintendent  of  public  instruction, 
a  member  of  the  legislatures  of  1847  ^^^  1848,  and  a  clergyman  by 
training,  had  recently  had  some  sheep  of  his  own  killed  on  the 
tracks  and  now  took  up  the  cudgels  for  the  farmers  in  the  area.  He 
denounced  the  destruction  of  livestock  and  the  company's  dis- 
claimer of  liability  and  refusal  of  fair  damages.  "The  road,"  he  de- 
clared in  June,  1849,  "has  been  for  a  long  time  one  gore  of  blood. 
No  heathen  altar  ever  smoked  more  continually  with  the  blood 
of  its  victims."  And  the  company  dared  to  charge  that  the  owners 
of  cattle  were  the  trespassers.  Resort  to  legal  action  cost  more  than 
the  cattle  were  worth.  The  railroad's  "reckless  policy"  had  created 
"an  embittered  state  of  feeling  along  the  whole  line"  and  was  re- 
sponsible for  the  fact  that  the  injured  persons  resorted  to  violence 
"because  they  know  no  other  way."  Pierce  warned  the  company  of 
the  consequences  of  its  policy,  even  though  he  had  "little  hope  that 
any  reason  or  argument  which  was  not  addressed  to  its  cupidity 
would  induce  a  moneyed  corporation  to  change  its  course."  Accord- 
ing to  one  account,  the  choleric  preacher  proved  his  point.  When 
he  championed  the  cause  of  a  poor  widow  who  had  a  yoke  of  oxen 
killed,  and  Superintendent  Brooks  contemptuously  sent  word  back 
to  Marshall  to  "Tell  that  parson  out  there  he'd  better  stick  to 
preaching,"  Pierce  replied  that  if  the  company  did  not  pay  the 
woman,  he  himself  would  see  to  it  that  every  mile  of  track  in  Cal- 
houn County  was  torn  up.  The  parson's  triumph  was  complete  and 
biblical,  if  momentary,  when  Brooks  paid  up  in  that  one  case. 
Pierce  concluded  as  follows: 

Something  must  be  done,  the  honor  of  the  state,— its  good  name  .  .  . 


demand  it.  The  road  must  be  fenced— in  the  meantime  something  near 
the  value  of  the  property  destroyed  must  be  paid.  It  is  an  outrage,  and 
evidences  utter  recklessness  of  life  and  limb  of  both  man  and  beast  that 
the  company  should  run  trains  over  an  unfenced  road,  where  all  cattle 
are  by  law  free  commoners,  at  the  rate  of  thirty  miles  per  hour.® 

Neither  at  Niles  nor  Marshall  nor  anywhere  else  in  the  state  was 
the  opposition  to  the  Michigan  Central  Railroad  so  intensive  and 
so  sustained  as  in  the  few  miles  along  the  line  of  the  road  between 
Grass  Lake  and  Michigan  Centre  in  the  eastern  part  of  Jackson 
County.  It  was  here  that  collective  protest  first  brought  the  offer  of 
half  pay  from  Superintendent  Brooks,  and  here  that  destructive 
reprisals  continued  for  almost  two  years  to  disrupt  the  railroad's 
operations.  Precisely  why  it  was  so  seems  difficult  to  ascertain  at 
this  distance  in  time.  Perhaps  more  cattle  were  killed  in  Leoni  and 
Grass  Lake  townships  than  elsewhere,  although  the  evidence  is 
not  conclusive  on  this  point.  Perhaps  it  was  that  here  the  farmers 
found  leaders,  veritable  tribunes  of  the  people,  in  two  men  with  a 
stubborn  determination  to  see  that  justice  was  done,  Abel  F.  Fitch 
of  Michigan  Centre  and  Benjamin  F.  Burnett  of  Grass  Lake.  Per- 
haps it  was  the  deliberate  choice  by  Superintendent  Brooks  of  these 
two  townships  as  the  arena  in  which  to  break  the  back  of  the  op- 
position to  the  railroad  that  brought  the  most  violent  reaction  in 
the  state.^ 

The  losses  between  Grass  Lake  and  Michigan  Centre,  while  sub- 
stantial, do  not  seem  to  have  been  unusually  heavy.  One  estimate 
was  that  forty  head  of  cattle  had  been  killed  near  the  village  of 
Leoni.  According  to  a  later  estimate,  damages  to  the  amount  of 
|8oo  had  been  inflicted  on  the  farmers  of  the  vicinity.'''  The  editor 
of  a  Jackson  paper  offered  the  following  explanation  of  the  im- 
broglio some  fifty  years  after  the  events:  East  of  Michigan  Centre, 
the  railroad  track  crossed  a  muskeg  or  sunken  lake,  "The  Dry 
Marsh"  as  it  was  known  in  the  locality,  and  the  cattle  in  the  area, 
which  had  previously  skirted  the  marsh,  began  to  use  the  tracks  as 
a  convenient  bridge,  with  disastrous  results  to  themselves.  The  rail- 
road, moreover,  then  brought  its  own  appraisers  out  from  Detroit, 
and  the  amount  of  the  damages  fixed  by  a  company  appraiser  who 
saw  the  animals  after  they  had  been  dead  for  several  days  was  not 
such  as  to  satisfy  the  owners.^ 

In  any  case,  by  the  spring  of  1 849,  the  increasing  destruction  of 


livestock  and  the  company's  refusal  to  pay  the  damages  claimed 
aroused  the  farmers  in  the  vicinity  to  action.  At  a  number  of  public 
meetings— railroad  meetings,  they  were  called— they  collectively 
requested  Superintendent  Brooks  to  modify  his  policy,  to  direct  the 
engineers  to  run  their  trains  more  carefully,  and,  until  the  right 
of  way  was  fenced,  to  pay  full  damages.  At  one  of  the  meetings, 
Abel  F.  Fitch,  Benjamin  F.  Burnett,  and  one  James  Courier  were 
chosen  as  a  committee  to  represent  the  group's  views  to  the  rail- 
road's superintendent  in  Detroit.  The  three  accordingly  wrote 
Brooks  a  letter  informing  him  of  the  great  excitement  among  the 
farmers  of  the  region  and  suggesting  the  consequences  of  further 
inflammation  of  the  popular  mind  by  a  policy  that  was  not  "more 
humane."  Brooks,  in  reply,  completely  denied  the  validity  of  the 
committee's  representations.  The  company,  he  countered,  was  not 
legally  liable  at  all  for  damages  to  property  along  the  right  of  way; 
he  would,  however,  pay  one  half  of  the  appraised  value  of  all  cattle 
killed.  Meanwhile,  he  suggested,  the  company  and  one  of  the  in- 
jured parties  could  take  a  test  case  to  the  Supreme  Court  of  the 
state  to  decide  the  question  of  liability,  with  all  costs  and  fees  up 
to  $50  to  be  borne  by  the  company.  If  the  court  decided  that  the 
company  were  liable,  he  would  thereafter  pay  in  full  the  damages 
incurred  by  the  farmers.  Brooks,  at  the  same  time,  professed  to  see 
an  implied  threat  in  the  committee's  letter  and  went  on  to  add 
that  he  would  hold  Fitch,  Burnett,  and  Courier  morally  if  not 
criminally  responsible  for  any  injury  done  the  railroad  in  any  at- 
tempts to  coerce  it.^ 

Brooks'  proposal,  which  was  published  in  the  Jackson  news- 
papers, was  never  seriously  entertained.  Abel  F.  Fitch  dismissed  it 
on  the  steps  of  the  American  Hotel  in  Jackson  as  a  "perfect  hum- 
bug." The  farmers  followed  his  lead  and  ignored  it  and  then  struck 
back  in  the  readiest  way  at  hand— by  placing  obstructions  on  the 
tracks,  stoning  the  trains,  and  even  shooting  at  the  engines  as  they 
passed  in  the  night.  As  Fitch,  now  become  their  spokesman,  argued, 
the  people  had  had  their  cattle  killed  and  could  not  get  redress  any 
other  way.  When  someone  suggested  going  to  court,  Fitch  denied 
that  the  people  could  get  their  rights  that  way,  and  went  on  to 
attack  the  whole  judicial  system  in  a  cynical  diatribe  of  a  man  who 
knew  the  political  game.  He  stated  bluntly  that  every  man  had  his 
price  and  that  a  judge  could  be  bought  as  well  as  any  other  man; 


that  he  had  no  more  confidence  in  the  judges  o£  the  Supreme  Court 
than  in  those  of  the  lower  courts— they  knew  enough  law  but  could 
be  bought  as  well  as  others,  though  in  ordinary  cases  they  were  well 
enough;  and  that  he  based  his  opinions  on  a  certain  county  judge 
whom  he  named.  He  denounced  the  railroad  company  as  an  aris- 
tocracy whose  influence  and  money  would  prevent  justice  from 
being  obtained  in  any  court.  When  it  was  argued  that  endangering 
the  lives  of  innocent  passengers  was  not  the  way  to  attain  the  object 
in  view,  Fitch  heatedly  countered  that  persons  who  would  support 
such  a  company  ought  to  be  injured. 

Fitch's  stand  was  echoed  by  William  Corwin,  a  teamster  at  Mich- 
igan Centre,  who  was  a  young  and  irresponsible  fellow.  One  morn- 
ing at  the  end  of  May,  Corwin  was  approached  by  a  neighbor, 
Abram  Henry,  who  mentioned  that  he  had  heard  some  shots  fired 
as  the  train  passed  the  night  before.  He  asked  Corwin  if  they  were 
firing  at  the  train  last  night.  Corwin  casually  replied,  "Yes,  I  sup- 
pose so."  Henry  asked  if  anyone  was  killed.  Corwin  said,  "No." 
When  Henry  then  pointed  out  that  by  and  by  they  would  kill 
somebody,  Corwin  burst  out:  "Damn  'em,  if  they  don't  want  to  be 
shot  let  'em  pay  for  the  cattle  they  have  killed."  Henry  told  him 
that  it  was  a  bad  idea,  for  they  would  kill  innocent  people  who 
paid  theit  money  for  riding  over  the  road.  Corwin  closed  the  con- 
versation angrily:  "Damn  'em,  they  need  not  ride  over  the  road 
if  they  don't  want  to  be  killed." 

Not  long  after,  the  violent  agitation  brought  the  attorney  gen- 
eral of  Michigan,  George  V.  N.  Lothrop,  to  the  scene.  He  came  to 
Jackson  from  Detroit  to  investigate  the  trouble  and  try  to  allay  the 
unrest.  On  his  arrival,  he  was  met  by  the  committee  of  three  who 
presented  the  aggrieved  farmers'  case  substantially  as  they  had 
done  to  Brooks.  When  Lothrop  suggested  a  remedy  at  law,  they  re- 
plied that  a  poor  man  would  have  no  chance  in  a  law  suit  with  the 
company.  Fitch  and  Burnett  argued  with  some  warmth  that  the 
railroad  was  to  blame  for  the  excitement  and  lawlessness;  that  as 
long  as  it  would  not  pay  fair  value  for  cattle  killed,  it  might  expect 
trouble  on  the  road;  and  that  the  people  were  justified  in  taking 
matters  into  their  own  hands,  for  it  was  the  only  means  they  had 
of  bringing  the  company  to  terms.  Fitch  even  threatened  to  send 
handbills  to  New  York,  Buffalo,  and  Chicago,  warning  the  public 
that  it  was  dangerous  to  pass  over  the  Michigan  Central.  Lothrop 


returned  to  Detroit  and  presented  the  committee's  views  to  Super- 
intendent Brooks.  He  then  wrote  the  committee  that  Brooks  in- 
sisted that  his  proposal  was  a  just  and  hberal  one  and  an  earnest 
of  the  company's  solicitude.  Brooks  gave  them  every  assurance  that 
any  engineer  found  wantonly  destroying  cattle  would  be  dis- 
charged. Furthermore,  it  had  always  been  the  practice  of  the  com- 
pany to  pay  full  value  for  cattle  killed  when  the  owner  was  too  poor 
to  bear  the  loss.  For  himself,  Lothrop  condemned  the  outrages  and 
promised  that  the  offenders,  who  were  no  better  than  "pirates  and 
wholesale  murderers,"  would  be  severely  punished.  Fie  then 
warned  the  three  spokesmen  that  unless  they  themselves  exerted 
an  active  influence  to  prevent  such  conduct,  they  "must  expect  to 
be  held,  in  no  slight  degree,  responsible  .  .  ."  And  like  a  good  poli- 
tician, Lothrop  closed  on  the  note  of  the  necessity  of  compromise. 

Matters  remained,  however,  at  an  impasse.  The  verbal  exchanges 
proved  to  be  only  preludes  to  a  violent  and  embittered  battle.  As 
the  summer  of  1849  advanced  and  as  mutual  suspicion  and  hatred 
mounted,  more  cattle  were  killed  and  further  depredations  were 
committed  against  the  railroad.  When  Orlando  D.  Williams,  a 
mason  at  Leoni,  had  his  cow  killed,  the  company  offered  him  half 
price  for  it  three  or  four  times.  He  refused  the  offers  and  demanded 
$25  or  nothing.  He  told  his  neighbor  it  would  be  a  dear  cow  for 
them.  Andrew  J.  (Jack)  Freeland,  a  successful  farmer  at  Michigan 
Centre,  complained  he  had  a  number  of  sheep  killed,  five  or  seven, 
and  the  company  offered  him  half  price  for  them,  but  if  they  did 
not  pay  him  full  price  they  would  be  dear  sheep.  He  slyly  said  that 
the  cars  were  getting  rather  skittish  about  running  through  Leoni 
Township,  and  "damn  'em,  they'd  better  pay  up  for  cattle  if  they 
did  not  want  trouble." 

The  railroad  did  not  pay  up  and  it  got  the  trouble.  That  summer 
and  fall  passenger  and  freight  trains  were  frequently  stoned,  shot 
at,  obstructed,  and  derailed  in  the  ten-mile  stretch  between  Grass 
Lake  and  Jackson.  The  assailants  would  hide  in  the  undergrowth 
along  the  right  of  way  during  the  night  and  throw  stones,  bricks, 
and  bottles  and  discharge  pistols  at  the  passing  trains.  Sometimes 
they  would  sally  forth  to  lay  rails  and  logs  across  the  track  or  throw 
switches.  Once  the  passenger  train  was  stoned  a  little  east  of  Leoni 
village  and  the  conductor  heard  a  woman  scream  and  went  back 
into  the  cars  and  a  lady  handed  him  a  stone  which  had  lodged  in 


her  lap.  A  man  in  the  next  car  was  badly  hurt  by  a  stone  which 
hit  him  in  the  breast.  The  conductor  went  on  to  find  stones  in  every 
car  and  many  windows  broken.  One  night,  an  engineer  later  re- 
called, his  passenger  train  was  stoned  three  times,  twice  near  Fitch's 
house,  which  stood  beside  the  tracks  at  Michigan  Centre,  and  once 
west  of  Leoni.  On  investigation,  he  found  the  mark  of  a  brick  five 
inches  long  on  the  tank  and  a  big  dent  on  his  boiler.  Another  night 
that  summer,  the  same  engineer  was  shot  at  as  he  approached  Mich- 
igan Centre.  He  saw  a  flash  of  guns,  some  four  or  five  of  them,  from 
about  thirty  or  forty  feet  from  the  tracks  and  later  found  the  marks 
of  a  ball  on  one  of  the  engine's  feed  pipes.  This  engineer  had  no 
taste  for  these  extra  hazards  of  railroading  and  soon  left  his  job 
with  the  Michigan  Central  for  one  in  another  state.  Another  engi- 
neer later  admitted  that  he  sometimes  cowered  behind  the  driving 
wheel  guards  as  he  rode  through  the  badlands  at  Michigan 

The  attacks  were  varied  by  placing  rails,  old  ties,  and  the  dis- 
carded strap  iron  rails  across  the  tracks  or  jamming  them  in  be- 
tween the  joints  of  the  rails  and  in  the  switches.  The  company 
had  to  run  a  hand  car  ahead  of  the  trains  between  Grass  Lake  and 
Jackson,  but  the  determined  assailants  would  simply  hide  along- 
side the  track  and  then,  after  the  hand  car  had  passed,  run  out  and 
do  their  mischief.  Traffic  was  greatly  slowed  up  and  the  train 
schedules  were  knocked  awry,  for  each  obstruction  meant  stopping 
the  train  and  getting  out  and  clearing  the  tracks.  The  run  from 
Grass  Lake  to  Jackson,  which  normally  took  forty-five  minutes, 
sometimes  took  as  long  as  an  hour  and  twenty-five  minutes.  The 
crawling  pace  through  the  disaffected  areas  was  indeed  a  necessity 
if  the  trains  were  not  to  be  run  off  with  great  loss  of  life  and 

Once  that  summer,  the  locomotive  Dexter  was  drawing  a  rack 
train  loaded  with  timber  going  west  in  the  late  afternoon.  The  con- 
ductor, Harmon  Spaulding,  was  in  the  cab  with  the  engineer  and 
the  fireman.  The  train  slowed  down  after  reaching  Leoni  but  then 
speeded  up  in  order  to  make  way  for  the  eastbound  passenger  train 
expected  at  that  time.  About  a  half  mile  east  of  Michigan  Centre, 
as  the  engine  rounded  a  curve  running  along  the  Dry  Marsh, 
Spaulding  sighted  a  stick  of  timber  lying  across  the  track.  The 
engineer  reversed  the  engine  and  then  both  he  and  the  fireman 

[    lO] 

jumped  for  their  lives.  Spaulding  stayed  on  as  the  wheels  hit  the 
log,  cut  it  in  two,  and  ground  to  a  stop  near  the  crossing  at  Mich- 
igan Centre.  A  group  of  men  came  up  to  the  stalled  engine,  among 
whom  Spaulding  recognized  Abel  Fitch  and  Ammi  Filley,  pro- 
prietor of  the  tavern  at  the  Centre.  Fitch  asked,  "Spaulding,  what's 
the  trouble?"  Spaulding  pointedly  told  him  that  "some  damned 
hyenas"  had  put  a  timber  on  the  track  and  tried  to  run  the  train 
off.  Someone  in  the  crowd  shouted  they  wished  they  had  run  it 
off.  To  this,  Spaulding  replied,  "I  don't  see  what  you  have  against 
me,  as  I  have  not  been  running  on  the  road  for  some  time."  Filley 
here  chimed  in  with  the  remark  that  they  did  not  care  who  they 
killed  and  would  as  lief  kill  him  as  any  one  else.  Spaulding  then 
asked  Fitch  what  their  object  was  and  the  latter  replied  that  there 
had  been  cattle  killed  that  had  not  been  paid  for.  Fitch  continued, 
shouting,  "Spaulding,  by  God,  the  company  can  never  run  this 
road  in  safety  until  they  come  out  and  pay  us  our  price  for  killing 
cattle  and  damages  done  to  other  property."  Spaulding  then 
argued  that  he  couldn't  see  why  the  obstruction  was  put  on  at 
that  time,  unless  it  was  intended  to  catch  the  passenger  train,  as 
they  did  not  know  this  timber  train  was  coming  along.  Somebody 
ans^vered  to  the  effect  that  the  men  who  put  it  there  knew  their 
business.  Spaulding,  his  temper  rising,  warned  the  men  that  if  it 
had  got  to  that  pass  that  the  company  could  not  do  business  on 
the  road,  he  for  one  Avas  ready  to  come  out  and  defend  the  road 
with  arms  if  necessary.  Fitch  threw  the  threat  right  back  and  said 
they  might  come  on  if  that  was  the  game— he  had  two  double- 
barreled  guns  and  some  loaded  pistols  ready  for  business  and  men 
enough  to  use  them.  At  this  point,  Spaulding  judiciously  decided 
that  matters  had  gone  far  enough  for  the  moment;  the  temper  of  the 
crowd  seemed  to  be  ugly  and  a  strategic  withdrawal  was  in  order. 
The  train  moved  on  only  to  find  more  obstructions  ahead,  several 
bars  of  strap  rail  and  the  skin  of  a  dead  cow,  and  it  was  Spaulding 
who  went  ahead  on  foot  to  remove  them. 

Yet  another  form  of  vicious  bedevilment  was  to  set  fire  to  the 
piles  of  company  lumber  stacked  along  the  right  of  way  for  the  use 
of  the  locomotives.  Late  one  night  in  the  fall  of  1849,  three  of  the 
more  law-abiding  citizens  of  Leoni  were  returning  from  Jackson  on 
foot  along  the  tracks.  They  came  upon  two  woodpiles  burning 
about  a  mile  west  of  Michigan  Centre,  and  went  to  work  to  put 

[  11  ] 

the  fires  out.  As  the  train  passed,  they  stopped  it  and  asked  for  help, 
but  got  only  an  unceremonious  damning  from  the  jittery,  distrust- 
ful train  crew.  As  day  broke,  the  little  group,  still  hard  at  work 
putting  out  the  fires,  was  accosted  by  three  friends  somewhat  less 
concerned  with  the  preservation  of  the  property  of  the  railroad. 
They  were  Fitch,  Filley,  and  Erastus  Champlin,  a  farmer  at  the 
Centre,  who  explained  that  they  had  been  hailed  by  the  train  crew 
back  at  the  Centre  and  told  that  the  woodpiles  were  on  fire.  The 
newcomers  were  content  to  stand  there,  taunting  and  reviling  the 
fire  fighters.  Champlin  sneered  that  the  train  crew  was  perfectly 
right  in  damning  them,  they  ought  to  be  damned,  and  damn  those 
who  didn't  damn  them.  Fitch,  with  wry  humor,  told  them  that  they 
ought  to  be  burnt  up  with  the  wood,  then  the  company  would  pay 
their  wives  half  price  for  the  ashes.  When  one  of  the  conscientious 
ones  remonstrated  that  he  thought  it  was  his  duty  to  try  and  save 
property  when  it  was  being  destroyed.  Fitch  answered  that  he  had 
never  put  anything  on  the  track  and  would  not  take  anything  off 
if  he  saw  the  cars  coming  with  Brooks  and  the  whole  company  in 
them  and  "it  knocked  them  all  to  hell."  The  fires  presumably  were 
put  out,  but  certainly  without  the  help  of  the  vindictive  Michigan 
Centreites.  At  another  time.  Fitch  refused  a  request  for  help  in 
putting  out  a  blazing  culvert,  saying,  "You  will  have  to  go  out  of 
this  town  to  get  help  to  put  it  out." 

Not  all  the  mishaps  that  afflicted  the  railroad  in  the  summer  and 
fall  of  1849  could  be  attributed,  directly  or  circumstantially,  to  the 
lawless  citizens  of  Michigan  Centre,  Leoni,  and  Grass  Lake.  Some 
were  simply  accidents  due  to  the  rather  primitive  railroading  oper- 
ations. Several  engines  and  trains  were  derailed  after  running  into 
cattle  grazing  on  the  track,  which  must  have  seemed  like  divine 
retribution  to  Fitch  and  his  friends.  The  negligence  of  track  crews 
doubtless  accounted  for  a  number  of  accidents.  Nor  had  attacks  on 
the  trains  disappeared  elsewhere  along  the  line  of  the  road.  East 
and  west  of  Niles  and  between  Ypsilanti  and  Ann  Arbor,  occasional 
depredations  continued  to  make  travel  on  the  Michigan  Central  a 
hazardous  venture.^^ 

Superintendent  Brooks  was  soon  convinced  of  the  need  for 
strong  measures  to  eliminate  the  threat  to  the  road's  operations. 
Business  during  1849  was  none  too  good  in  any  case,  what  with  the 
poor  crop,  an  outbreak  of  cholera  in  the  state,  and  the  continued 

[  12] 

strong  competition  of  the  lake  boats  that  took  passengers  to  Chi- 
cago around  Michigan  via  the  lakes.  The  attacks  by  those  whom 
Brooks  could  only  recognize  as  marauding  felons  were  driving 
passengers  to  travel  around  the  lakes  rather  than  risk  life  and  limb 
on  the  Michigan  Central. ^^ 

Brooks'  first  step  was  to  station  company  police  or  watchmen 
along  the  track  in  the  troubled  area.  He  then  offered  a  reward  of 
$500  for  the  detection  and  conviction  of  the  criminals  who  had  ob- 
structed or  would  obstruct  the  railroad,  and  circulated  printed 
handbills  to  that  effect  along  the  line.  The  reward  circulars  singled 
out  for  special  consideration  those  "sundry  evil  minded  persons, 
in  and  about  the  village  of  Leoni,"  but  also  extended  its  terms  to 
"similar  offenders  on  any  part  of  the  road." 

These  measvires  did  not  prove  effective.  Not  a  single  offender 
was  caught  nor  a  single  attack  discovered  in  time.  If  anything,  the 
presence  of  the  police  only  put  the  "sundry  evil  minded  persons" 
on  their  guard  and  led  them  to  resort  to  devious  maneuver;  they 
were  easily  able  to  spot  and  outwit  the  special  watch.  Once  in 
August,  Brooks  and  Joy,  who  directed  the  legal  action,  thought 
they  had  cornered  their  game  and  were  ready  to  make  an  example 
that  would  forestall  further  attacks,  but  found  they  had  only 
caught  a  tartar.  One  of  the  special  police,  Elwood  Cook,  went  to 
the  grand  jury  of  Jackson  County  and  made  out  an  information 
against  one  James  A.  Lester,  charging  him  with  obstructing  the 
railroad.  Attorney  General  Lothrop  came  out  to  Jackson  from  De- 
troit and  prodded  the  grand  jury  into  issuing  an  indictment 
against  Lester.i^  It  seemed  as  though  the  law  were  at  last  ready  to 
step  in  and  strike  down  the  enemies  of  the  railroad. 

The  law,  however,  reckoned  without  the  determination  of  Fitch 
and  Burnett.  As  soon  as  Lester  was  arrested,  these  two  came  to  his 
defense.  They  unearthed  evidence  and  brought  witnesses  to  show 
that  it  was  Cook  who  had  obstructed  the  railroad  and  then  laid  the 
crime  to  Lester  in  the  hope  of  gaining  the  $500  reward.  Fitch  and 
Burnett  presented  these  findings  to  the  not  wholly  unsympathetic 
citizens  of  the  Jackson  County  Grand  Jury,  which  then  found  a 
true  bill  against  Cook  for  perjury  four  days  after  it  had  indicted 
Lester.  With  the  tables  thus  turned,  Joy  had  to  come  to  Cook's 
defense.  Neither  case,  however,  came  to  trial;  both  were  eventually 
nolle  prossed.i^ 

[  13] 

This  legal  defeat  convinced  Brooks  and  Joy  that  they  were  using 
the  wrong  tactics.  They  realized  that  they  were  not  facing  a  num- 
ber of  lawless  individuals  but  a  body  of  citizens  united  in  hatred  of 
the  railroad  and  belief  in  the  justice  of  their  cause.  Public  senti- 
ment in  Jackson  County  was  largely  ranged  against  the  Michigan 
Central  and  convictions  by  local  juries  would  be  difficult  if  not 
impossible  to  obtain.  Detection  of  the  guilty  by  ordinary  police 
methods  had  proven  ineffective.  Action  against  relatively  unim- 
portant individuals,  moreover,  would  not  halt  the  attacks.  The 
company  faced  the  necessity  of  resorting  to  extraordinary  methods 
to  gain  evidence  against  its  enemies  and  then,  of  striking  at  the 
head  and  heart  of  the  opposition,  at  its  leaders,  at  Fitch,  Burnett, 
and  the  more  active  of  their  followers.  Brooks  and  Joy  set  their 
sights  accordingly. 

Fitch  had  without  doubt  emerged  as  the  leader  of  the  road's  op- 
ponents. His  position  in  the  community  and  his  opinions  had  led  to 
his  choice  on  the  committee  of  three  that  acted  for  the  citizens  as- 
sembled in  public  protest;  he  had  probably  been  active  in  organiz- 
ing the  meetings  in  the  first  place.  Subsequently,  his  leadership 
was  reinforced  by  the  promptings  of  his  conscience,  by  a  self- 
imposed  trust  as  advocate  of  the  cause  of  his  friends  and  neighbors. 
It  was  expressed  in  his  activities  on  behalf  of  Lester  and  his  public 
defense  of  the  attacks  on  the  railroad  and  denunciation  of  the  com- 
pany's policies.  And  Superintendent  Brooks  could  only  have  con- 
cluded that  Fitch  was  his  nemesis,  the  gadfly  of  the  opposition, 
when  in  the  fall  of  1849  he  received  a  letter  from  him  complaining 
of  the  fact  that  the  trains  were  not  stopping  at  Michigan  Centre 
to  pick  up  passengers  who  were  giving  the  usual  signal.  "Now  if 
this  policy,"  Fitch  warned  in  closing,  "comes  from  you  or  your 
legal  advisers,  as  did  the  insulting  half  pay  proposition  for  killing 
cattle,  if  serious  accidents  do  occur  on  the  road,  on  your  head,  and 
yours  alone,  must  rest  the  responsibility."  Brooks  promptly  an- 
swered the  letter  with  maddening  politeness,  if  none  too  helpfully, 
by  enclosing  a  handbill  with  a  schedule  of  train  stops.  "If  any 
train  has  passed  your  station,  which  according  to  it,  should  stop 
there,"  he  explained,  "I  would  be  quite  obliged  for  any  informa- 
tion that  will  point  to  a  specific  train,  when  I  can  correct  it."  With 
that  reply,  the  incident  was  closed;  it  was  in  itself  not  of  great 
moment,  but  served  to  aggravate  ill  feeling  and  convince  Brooks 

[  H] 

that  Fitch  was  the  instigator  of  all  the  company's  many  troubles. 

Abel  F.  Fitch  was  an  amalgam  of  shrewdness  and  idealism  that 
in  most  other  men  happily  serves  or  is  made  to  serve  their  own  ag- 
grandizement. In  his  case,  the  two  ingredients  clashed  and  eventu- 
ally led  to  his  downfall.  He  had  come  to  Michigan  with  his  wife 
from  his  native  Connecticut  in  1832  and  located  on  the  Clinton 
Road  near  Jackson  where  he  opened  a  tavern  which  was  soon 
widely  known  as  the  old  "Fitch  stand."  Turning  from  whiskey  to 
real  estate,  he  took  a  profitable  part  in  the  speculative  orgy  of  the 
middle  1830's.  He  invested  some  of  his  gains  in  the  stock  of  the 
Jackson  County  Bank  and  was  implicated  in  the  collapse  of  that 
wildcat  institution  and  made  the  target  of  several  indictments  for 
conspiracy  in  1838.  Like  most  of  the  businessmen  in  that  frontier 
community,  he  emerged  unscathed  and  unmoved  and  went  on  to 
become  a  leading  public  figure.  When  Michigan  was  admitted  as  a 
state  in  1837,  Fitch,  now  living  in  Michigan  Centre,  a  community 
he  had  helped  develop  to  his  own  profit,  was  a  delegate  to  the 
convention  which  met  to  organize  the  Democratic  Party  in  Jackson 
County.  He  enlarged  his  public  services  by  organizing  a  squadron 
of  cavalry,  the  Barry  Horse  Guards,  in  the  state  militia  in  1843  and 
was  commissioned  its  captain.  Tenders  of  political  trust  by  his 
neighbors  made  him  Inspector  of  Elections  in  Leoni  Township  and 
local  representative  on  the  Board  of  County  Canvassers  in  1850 
and  1851.  On  April  7,  1851,  he  was  elected  Supervisor  of  Leoni 
Township  on  the  Democratic  ticket.  He  lived  in  style  at  Michigan 
Centre,  in  a  spacious  home  complete  with  verandahs  and  shade 
trees,  on  an  estate  valued  at  $8,000  with  more  than  five  hundred 
acres  of  orchards,  pastures,  gardens,  a  lake,  and  a  deer  park,  as  well 
as  productive  fields.  Gifted  with  a  happy  family  of  wife  and  two 
adopted  children,  numerous  friends,  and  a  sense  of  humor,  enjoy- 
ing his  books,  pictures  and  music— he  played  the  clarionet— this 
prosperous  country  squire,  the  richest  man  in  the  township,  could 
have  proudly  and  thankfully  rested  on  his  laurels  as  he  looked 
back  at  his  full  forty-three  years. ^^ 

If  only  he  had  rested  content  to  be  as  others  in  his  station— solid 
law-abiding  citizens,  members  of  respectable  churches,  and  vocal 
but  realistic  exponents  of  the  ideals  of  justice  and  right.  But  Fitch 
possessed  something  of  the  Yankee  conscience  that  held  him  to 
strict  account  and  would  take  no  tittle  of  compromise,  that  made 

[  15] 

him  a  come-outer  when  silence  would  have  been  safer  and  deeds 
could  have  been  dismissed  as  unnecessary  and  ineffective.  In  re- 
ligion, he  was,  according  to  Burnett  who  knew  him  well,  a  Uni- 
versalist,  that  rather  broad  humane  American  sect  that  was  out- 
side the  pale  of  organized  churchdom  and  orthodox  doctrine.  His 
belief  in  God  was  strong  and  real  as  was  his  faith  in  His  goodness, 
though  he  spoke  lightly  of  His  conventional  representatives  on 
earth.  Once,  defending  the  men  of  Leoni,  Fitch  jokingly  laid  the 
shootings  to  a  local  Baptist  clergyman,  and  to  a  Congregational  di- 
vine in  Jackson  whom  he  called  "Priest"  Foster,  and  told  how  he 
had  remonstrated  with  them  to  no  avail,  such  hardened  evil-doers 
were  they.  On  the  greatest  moral  question  of  the  day,  slavery.  Fitch 
was  on  the  side  of  freedom.  According  to  one  promoter  of  the  Un- 
derground Railroad  in  Michigan,  Fitch  was  its  agent  in  Michigan 
Centre.  When  he  was  elected  county  supervisor,  he  was  sneeringly 
classified  as  a  free  soil  loco  by  the  opposition  Whig  sheet.  And 
when  "Priest"  Foster,  the  Reverend  Gustavus  L.  Foster  of  the  Con- 
gregational Church  in  Jackson,  delivered  a  sermon  denouncing 
the  Fugitive  Slave  Law  and  counselling  disobedience,  he  must  have 
risen  greatly  in  Fitch's  esteem.  For  when  Fitch  was  arrested  and  his 
person  was  searched,  the  only  incriminating  evidence  found  on 
him  was  a  reprint  of  the  Reverend  Foster's  "higher  law"  sermon. 
And  his  subsequent  notoriety  brought  him  the  dubious  acclaim  of 
eastern  newspapers  as  one  of  Michigan's  most  prominent  aboli- 

Such  was  the  man  who  had  come  forward  as  the  advocate  of  the 
people's  rights  in  the  eastern  part  of  Jackson  County— a  pillar  of 
society,  a  shrewd  but  amiable  country  squire,  and  withal,  a  man  of 
unorthodox  bent,  with  principles,  who  did  not  fear  to  express  and 
act  on  them.  And  when  he  spoke  out  against  Brooks'  policies,  he 
was  also  moved  by  disinterested  principle.  "They  done  wrong,"  he 
later  explained,  "when  they  took  the  poor  man's  last  cow  without 
remuneration."  His  only  crime  was  that  he  had  the  "indipendance 
to  tell  them  [that]  to  their  faces."  There  is  no  evidence  that  Fitch's 
own  interests  were  at  stake  or  in  any  way  affected  or  that  he  stood 
to  gain  anything  personally  by  his  actions.  "If  money  making  was 
my  object,"  (and  Fitch  knew  well  how  to  achieve  that  mercenary 
end),  he  wrote  his  wife,  "I  could  sell  myself  to  them  for  a  great 
price,  they  have  already  made  advances,  but  they  have  waked  up 


the  wrong  passenger."  Nor  is  there  any  evidence,  as  was  later  al- 
leged by  the  press,  that  Fitch  was  satisfying  an  old  grudge  against 
the  railroad  arising  from  a  dispute  over  payment  for  a  parcel  of 
his  land.^'^ 

Fitch  did  not,  however,  abandon  all  caution.  Defending  and 
abetting  his  followers,  he  never  himself  took  part  in  any  of  the  at- 
tacks. Publicly  and  before  outsiders,  he  did  not  even  approve, 
though  he  might  extenuate  the  acts  of  violence  that  endangered 
the  lives  of  innocent  people.  He  preferred  himself  to  fight  the 
railroad  where  his  influence  could  be  most  effective:  in  the  courts, 
in  the  legislature,  among  his  friends  in  the  East  whom  he  asked 
to  discourage  travel  on  the  Michigan  Central.  And  when  Lothrop, 
now  in  the  service  of  the  railroad,  saw  Fitch  helping  in  the  legisla- 
tive fight  against  the  road  in  Lansing  in  1851,  the  latter  was  sure 
that  the  former  attorney  general  "had  rather  see  the  evel  (sic)  one 
than  to  have  seen  me  .  .  .  here."  ^^ 

Fitch's  adjutant  in  the  campaign  against  the  Michigan  Central 
was  Benjamin  F.  Burnett,  the  vocal  lawyer  from  Grass  Lake,  hon- 
orifically  known  as  Judge  Burnett.  The  "Judge"  was  no  more  than 
a  village  lawyer,  probably  self-trained,  a  litigant  as  often  as  he  was 
counsel,  who  had  garnered  neither  laurels  nor  lucre  in  his  profes- 
sion. A  man  of  some  education  and  ability,  he  had  also  tried  his 
hand  at  surveying,  but  by  1850,  his  total  assets  did  not  exceed 
|8oo.  His  motives  in  working  and  clamoring  for  those  who  came  to 
be  known  as  the  "railroad  conspirators"  are  not  clear.  He  may 
have  been  something  of  a  maverick,  having  unsuccessfully  run  for 
county  surveyor  in  1848  as  a  Free  Soiler.  Ambitious,  contentious, 
and  not  always  scrupulous  of  legal  and  conventional  niceties,  he 
may  have  been  fishing  in  troubled  waters  when  he  adopted  the 
cause  of  the  people.  Once  having  made  his  choice,  however,  he 
stuck  to  it  through  abuse  and  imprisonment.  His  later  journalistic 
crusade  on  behalf  of  the  "conspirators,"  in  and  out  of  jail,  helped 
keep  the  issue  "before  the  people"  until  a  measure  of  justice  was 

The  third  in  the  village  triumvirate  was  Ammi  Filley,  brother- 
in-law  of  Fitch  and  owner  of  the  tavern  at  Michigan  Centre,  next 
to  the  tracks,  across  the  road  from  Fitch's  house.  His  relation  to 
Fitch,  his  comparative  wealth,  and  above  all,  his  control  of  seem- 
ingly unlimited  supplies  of  whiskey  gave  him  some  standing  among 

[  17  ] 

the  farmers  of  the  locality,  if  it  tarnished  his  name  in  the  county  at 
large.  He  had  come  to  Michigan  from  Connecticut  in  1833,  and 
after  unsuccessful  business  ventures  in  and  around  Jackson  and 
some  notoriety  as  the  father  of  "The  Lost  Boy,"  William  Filley, 
who  disappeared  among  the  Indians,  had  established  himself  as 
the  tavern  keeper  of  Michigan  Centre.  He  was  not  poor:  his  prop- 
erty was  valued  at  $4,200  and  he  employed  as  many  as  twelve  men 
on  his  lands,  from  which  he  sent  fish  and  game  to  the  Detroit 
market.  Angered  by  the  railroad's  policy  in  some  altercation  over 
the  building  of  fences,  he  nursed  his  hurt  into  vindictiveness  and 
unrestrainedly  denounced  the  road,  prodded  his  friends  and  em- 
ployees to  violent  attacks,  and  even  personally  put  his  hand  to 
stoning  the  trains  and  obstructing  the  tracks.^o 

It  was  Filley's  tavern  that  served  as  the  natural  headquarters 
where  discontent  was  expressed,  allayed,  and  fortified  over  the  bar 
or  at  the  card  table  or  the  nine-pin  alley  outside.  Here  grievances 
were  loudly  aired  and  anger  fanned  and  the  escapades  hatched, 
more  often  than  not  under  the  influence  of  the  liquor  which  Filley 
had  ordered  his  bartenders  to  dispense  so  freely.  "They  generally 
drank  by  platoons,"  one  observer  reported  of  the  almost  nightly 
gatherings  at  Filley's.  And  if  this  popular  rendezvous  by  the  tracks 
was  later  denominated  a  "low  country  tavern,"  it  certainly  was  the 
poor  man's  club  in  Leoni  Township.21 

Here  Orlando  Williams,  the  stone  mason,  bibulously  boasted  of 
his  feats,  imaginary  and  real,  in  getting  back  at  the  railroad.  Here 
Bill  Corwin,  the  shiftless  teamster  and  occasional  barkeep,  who 
took  his  pay  in  liquid  kind,  got  up  his  bravado  for  destructive 
sorties.  Here  the  Price  boys,  Eben  and  Richard,  blacksmiths  by 
trade,  joined  in  the  roistering  that  sometimes  led  to  drunken 
brawls  and  sometimes  to  alcoholic  feats  of  derring-do.  Here  Eras- 
tus  Champlin,  farmer,  and  his  two  sons,  Lyman  and  Willard, 
damned  the  railroad  and  swore  vengeance.  And  here,  too,  came 
the  railroad  agents  to  gather  their  evidence  of  crimes  committed 
and  planned.  Sometimes,  too,  the  boys  would  journey  to  the  tavern 
at  Leoni  village  for  a  "ball"  or  to  some  "grocery"  or  hotel  at  Jack- 
son where  the  usual  round  of  quaffing,  boasts,  threats,  and  forays 
would  be  repeated. 

During  the  long  winter  of  1849-1850  or,  in  railroad  parlance, 
after  the  close  of  the  season,  activity  and  talk  abated  with  the  cold 

[  18] 

weather.  Once  the  lakes  were  frozen,  through  traffic  fell  off  greatly 
if  not  completely,  and  the  occasions  and  targets  for  depredations 
did  not  present  themselves.  But  once  the  thaws  came  and  the  trains 
began  to  run  again,  the  battle  was  renewed  by  both  sides  with  in- 
creased vigor.22 

During  the  spring,  summer,  and  fall  of  1850,  resentment  over 
more  cattle  killed  and  Superintendent  Brooks'  half-pay  policy 
seemed  to  grow  and  intensify.  Resentment  was  soon  translated  into 
threats  and  threats  into  violence.  The  burden  of  complaint  was 
the  old  one:  the  company  would  never  run  over  the  road  in  safety 
until  it  paid  up  for  property  destroyed;  if  they  could  not  get  their 
revenge  in  one  way,  they  would  get  it  in  another;  they  would  let 
the  company  know  there  was  "a.  God  in  Israel;  the  company  would 
be  glad  bye  and  bye  to  pay  up  for  cattle  or  if  they  did  not  they 
would  catch  hell."  Lyman  Champlin  angrily  threatened  that  if 
they  did  not  pay  for  the  old  gray  mare  they  killed,  he  would  keep 
the  railroad  wood  and  fences  on  fire.  In  June,  Burnett  had  a  cow 
killed  at  Grass  Lake  and  when  a  neighbor  joked  him  for  not  com- 
mencing suit  and  getting  pay  for  it,  he  declared  he  would  have 
full  pay  or  full  satisfaction  before  he  receipted  for  the  critter.  Bill 
Corwin,  in  the  course  of  a  conversation  with  a  neighbor,  pulled  out 
of  his  pocket  a  printed  pamphlet  called  "The  Railroad  Dream" 
and  read  aloud  of  a  poor  man's  cow  being  killed  and  how  he  had 
sued  the  company  and  got  nothing.  "By  Jesus,"  Corwin  exclaimed, 
"is  the  people  going  to  stand  this?  No,  by  Jesus,  they'll  catch  it 
before  long." 

Sometimes,  tongues  loosened  by  alcohol  talked  in  a  kind  of  des- 
perate confidence  of  a  great  coup  or  some  ingenious  plan  to  destroy 
the  road  at  one  blow.  Jack  Freeland  once  freely  and  openly  de- 
scribed a  plan  for  placing  powder  on  the  rails  with  a  fuse  running 
from  it,  so  timed  as  to  explode  when  the  trains  passed.  Another 
time,  Ebenezer  Farnham,  a  dentist  in  Jackson  who  was  as  much 
given  to  drink  as  to  the  practice  of  his  profession  and  who  sympa- 
thized with  the  plight  of  the  Leonians,  emerged  from  a  "grocery" 
in  that  town,  collared  a  passing  friend,  pulled  him  into  an  alley, 
and  said,  "I  want  to  tell  you  something  for  I  believe  you  to  be  a 
pretty  damned  good  fellow."  The  friend  thought  the  doctor  was 
pretty  well  corned  as  he  went  on:  "The  railroad— hell  and  damna- 
tion, the  railroad  will  all  be  blown  up  in  less  than  a  month.  .  ." 

[  19] 

The  happy  dentist  gloated  in  drunken  glee,  "5 10,000  all  gone  to 
hell  in  one  minute  and  I've  got  the  tools  to  do  it,"  and  hung  on  to 
his  listener  for  dear  life.  Orlando  Williams  promised  the  assem- 
bled company  at  Morrison's  grocery  in  Jackson  that  he  would  tear 
up  the  track  from  Michigan  Centre  to  Leoni  to  make  the  com- 
pany pay  for  cattle  killed.  At  Hadden's  grocery  in  Jackson,  ^Vil- 
liams  confidentially  offered  a  fellow  barfly  a  chance  to  make  $500 
by  burning  the  railroad  company's  steamers,  the  Mayflower  and 
the  Atlantic,  and  bringing  them  to  the  water's  edge.  At  Filley's 
one  day,  between  drinks,  Williams  boasted  that  the  company 
would  be  glad  to  eat  salt  out  of  their  hands  in  a  few  days  and  that 
it  should  be  made  to  pay  double  value  for  cattle  killed.  Bill  Cor- 
win  almost  matched  Williams'  big  talk  about  what  he  was  going 
to  do  to  the  company.  Once  in  Jackson,  he  had  swapped  horses 
with  Caleb  Loud,  dealer  in  "Loud's  Celebrated  Ointment"  for 
horses,  and  the  two  were  riding  around  the  sheds  by  the  railroad 
depot.  Loud  remarked  that  a  fire  there  would  sweep  the  whole 
lower  town.  Corwin  put  his  hand  on  Loud's  arm  and  said,  "Just 
remember  my  word,  there  will  be  one  here  before  long."  Corwin 
also  felt  impelled  to  seek  new  recruits  in  back  of  Morrison's  gro- 
cery to  tear  up  the  track  and  burn  the  depot  at  Jackson,  promising 
large  sums  of  money. 

None  of  these  grandiose  plans  for  destroying  the  railroad  ever 
materialized.  But  attacks  similar  to  those  of  the  season  of  1849  con- 
tinued to  harass  the  operation  of  trains  between  Grass  Lake  and 
Jackson.  The  summer  and  fall  of  1850  were  punctuated  with  the 
familiar  shootings,  stonings,  obstructions,  and  burnings. 

More  than  one  evening,  as  a  bunch  of  the  boys  were  gathered  at 
Filley's,  someone  would  suggest  that  they  go  and  give  them  a  few 
stones  or  "give  them  hell  again  tonight,"  and  a  group  would  sally 
out  to  stone  the  trains  amidst  the  startled  cries  of  the  passengers. 
One  dark  night  in  August,  Filley,  Jacob  Wolliver,  his  devil  or 
handyman,  and  the  two  Price  boys  got  an  ax  and  went  out  to 
throw  the  cars  off.  About  three-quarters  of  a  mile  west  of  Leoni, 
where  the  tracks  crossed  a  culvert  over  a  six-foot  bank,  they  broke 
the  chairs  that  held  the  rails  in  place  and  moved  them  to  one  side. 
They  then  went  off  forty  or  sixty  rods  and  lay  down  and  waited. 
An  eastbound  train,  pulled  by  the  locomotive  Gazelle  came  along 
and  ran  into  the  open  track.  The  Gazelle  ran  off  and  capsized  and 


the  train  crews  worked  many  hours  getting  her  back  on.  Filley  later 
described  the  incident  as  good  clean  sport:  how  when  they  went 
out  cooning,  the  road  was  the  best  ground  to  go  on;  the  Gazelle 
was  a  big  coon  they  caught  the  other  night  but  they  had  lost  its 
tail,  "but  damn  'em,"  they  will  have  that  soon;  it  had  taken  a  good 
many  men  to  get  the  coon  on  the  track  again,  and  he  did  not  want 
anything  better  than  an  ax  and  a  crow  bar  to  shoot  a  coon  with. 
Fitch,  too,  indulged  in  his  characteristic  humor  when  he  told  how 
the  Gazelle  had  got  dry  and,  having  no  pump  aboard,  was  forced 
to  go  down  into  the  marsh  for  water. 

During  the  state  fair  at  Ann  Arbor  in  September,  1850,  a  conduc- 
tor later  recalled,  it  seemed  almost  impossible  to  get  through  Leoni 
and  Michigan  Centre  at  night  without  some  trouble.  This  was  de- 
spite the  fact  that  all  train  crews  had  been  warned  to  proceed 
slowly  and  with  great  caution  through  these  places.  One  night  dur- 
ing the  fair,  this  conductor  was  running  a  train  west  and  at  Grass 
Lake  told  the  engineer  he  could  run  to  Michigan  Centre  at  normal 
speed.  Soon  a  passenger  asked  him  why  they  were  running  faster 
than  usual  and  the  conductor  explained:  "There  is  no  danger;  we 
have  the  head  devils  on  board,  and  the  gang  will  not  hurt  them." 
And  he  pointed  down  the  car  to  where  Fitch  and  Filley  were 
sitting,  on  their  way  back  from  a  visit  to  the  fair. 23 

That  same  month,  a  group  from  the  Centre  had  gone  to  Leoni 
village  to  help  Ephraim  Barrett  in  his  law  suit  against  the  railroad 
company  for  damages  for  a  cow  that  had  been  killed.  Barrett  had 
been  offered  $15  and  would  have  liked  to  accept  that  sum,  but  his 
neighbors  urged  him  not  to.  The  suit  at  Leoni  was  fruitless,  and 
the  men  returned  to  Michigan  Centre  embittered.  After  their  re- 
turn, Filley  and  Wolliver  went  out  and  stuck  a  tie  into  the  culvert 
west  of  Fitch's  house  so  that  it  would  strike  the  lamp  on  the  next 
engine  that  came  along.  They  also  put  a  mudsill  across  the  track 
nearby,  and  then  retired  from  the  scene.  The  freight  train  was  duly 
halted  and  Fitch  and  Filley  came  up  and  innocently  inquired  what 
the  matter  was.  Receiving  no  enlightenment  from  one  member  of 
the  train  crew,  which  was  busy  removing  the  obstructions,  they  re- 
peated their  question  to  another,  and  got  only  abuse  in  reply.  "You 
damned  hounds,"  the  train  hand  cursed,  "every  one  of  you  should 
be  hung  up."  Now  riled.  Fitch  and  Filley  went  around  to  the  rear 
of  the  train  and  put  on  the  brakes.  The  two  then  went  up  the  track 

[21    ] 

a  way  and  hugely  enjoyed  watching  the  sparks  fly  from  the  wheels 
as  the  train  struggled  up  a  grade. 

In  October,  the  engine  Rocket  ran  off  at  Michigan  Centre  after 
it  had  hit  an  open  switch.  Although  the  engine  tore  up  the  side 
track  it  was  not  upset,  but  it  took  about  seven  hours  to  get  it  back 
on  the  tracks.  With  each  successful  attack  on  the  road,  Filley  took 
great  delight  in  giving  the  company  credit  in  some  imaginary 
ledger  against  the  unpaid  balance  for  cattle  killed— $i  for  each 
stoning  and  proportionately  greater  amounts  for  more  substantial 
losses.  Fitch,  too,  made  estimates  of  losses  the  company  had  suffered 
and  reckoned  that  the  cattle  killed  between  Grass  Lake  and  Jack- 
son had  already  cost  the  company  about  I400  per  head.  These 
vengeful  calculations  also  included  mishaps  on  the  Michigan  Cen- 
tral with  which  the  boys  from  the  Centre  had  nothing  to  do,  al- 
though they  were  later  charged  with  them.  Two  such  accidents 
must  be  laid  entirely  to  chance  or  negligence.  In  June,  1850,  a  bag- 
gage car  carrying  United  States  mail  took  fire  and  was  destroyed  a 
little  east  of  Jackson.  Again,  a  train  was  thrown  off  the  track  at 
Leoni  because  a  track  crew  had  removed  some  of  the  rail  at  that 
point  and  the  engineer  had  not  seen  their  signal  in  time  to  stop.^^ 

Fitch,  except  for  the  time  when  he  had  reversed  the  brakes  on 
the  stalled  train,  continued  to  confine  his  activities  to  those  of 
public  advocate.  In  Michigan  Centre  and  in  Jackson,  he  made  no 
secret  of  his  unyielding  opposition  to  the  railroad's  policy  and  of 
his  opinion  that  the  trouble  the  road  was  having  was  fully  de- 
served; that  it  was  the  only  means  of  bringing  the  company  to 
terms;  that  the  depredations  would  divert  travel  from  the  road  and 
"bring  them  to  their  milk."  He  justified  the  actions  of  his  friends 
with  an  illustration:  suppose  a  man  owned  a  large  tract  of  land 
near  the  town  and  the  village  cattle  troubled  him,  he  could  dig 
pits  and  get  the  cattle  into  them— the  land  being  his  own,  they 
could  not  help  themselves— the  owners  of  the  cattle,  however,  had 
a  right  to  take  the  law  into  their  own  hands  and  that  would  be 
their  only  remedy.  Fitch's  analogy  is  pertinent  only  if  one  remem- 
bers that  cattle  in  that  sparsely  settled  and  unfenced  country  were 
regarded  at  law  as  free  commoners  and  allowed  to  run  at  large.^s 

At  times.  Fitch  not  altogether  jokingly  laid  the  violence  to  the 
railroad  police,  adding  that  he  would  like  to  catch  the  spies  on  his 
land  and  "fix  'em  out."  In  the  same  breath,  he  admitted  that  ston- 


ing  was  "mild  means"  his  friends  were  using  and  boasted  that  "the 
company  was  nearly  used  up  now  and  had  gone  down  with  only 
fifteen  passengers  on  one  train."  When  someone  accused  Fitch  him- 
self of  stoning  the  cars  as  they  passed  his  house,  he  replied  with 
brazen  humor  that  it  was  "a  damned  lie"  as  he  was  upstairs  looking 
out  of  the  window  at  the  attack. 

To  his  respectable  friends.  Fitch  talked  with  more  caution  and 
some  hypocrisy.  That  fall,  Alonzo  Bennett,  a  merchant  of  Jackson, 
warned  Fitch  that  the  boys  had  already  gone  far  enough  and  that 
a  few  words  from  him  or  a  little  labor  would  stop  the  depredations. 
Fitch  replied  that  he  knew  that  what  the  boys  w^ere  doing  was 
wrong  and  that  they  must  look  out.  But,  he  went  on,  he  had  also 
told  them  to  get  pay  for  their  cattle  if  they  could,  and  if  they  could 
not,  they  must  lay  their  plans  so  as  not  to  get  caught  at  it.  He  con- 
cluded piously  that  if  the  company  would  only  pay  full  value, 
"they  would  have  God  almighty  on  their  side  and  be  prosperous." 
About  the  same  time,  when  the  Jackson  American  Citizen  edi- 
torially condemned  both  the  company  for  not  paying  full  value 
and  the  residents  of  Leoni  for  taking  the  law  into  their  own  hands, 
Fitch  personally  assured  the  editor,  Charles  V.  De  Land,  of  his 
"perfect  sympathy"  with  those  sentiments.-^ 

Fitch's  advocacy  of  their  cause  and  the  failure  of  the  company 
to  catch  any  of  the  offenders  gave  the  Leonians  a  feeling  of  con- 
fidence. Bound  together  by  their  grievances  and  sense  of  wrong, 
they  were  further  united  in  a  community  of  interest  by  the  un- 
hampered successes  of  their  campaign  of  retaliation  and  by  the 
conviction  that  in  Fitch  they  had  a  protector  and  influential  inter- 
cessor with  the  powers  that  be.  They  knew  that  Fitch  was  on  their 
side,  that  he  had  friends  in  high  political  place,  that  he  had  a 
"long  head."  They  were  certain  "he  would  stick  by  them  as  long 
as  he  had  any  blood  left  in  his  body."  Too,  they  were  sure  that  they 
themselves  would  stick  by  one  another  and  find  shelter  from  the 
law  in  their  common  fraternity.  They  bragged  of  standing  by  one 
another  "to  swear  any  hostile  witnesses  to  hell."  As  Bill  Corwin 
put  it:  "They  could  prove  that  [a]  horse  was  a  blacksmith  shop 
and  every  hair  on  him  a  candle  if  necessary."  They  counted  on 
their  ability  to  get  witnesses  of  their  own  to  clear  them  of  any 
criminal  complicity.  They  felt  certain  that  no  jury  in  Jackson 
County  would  ever  convict  them  for  any  act  against  the  railroad. 


All  these  acts  and  declarations  did  not,  however,  add  up  to  a 
conspiracy  within  the  legal  meaning  of  the  term,  as  was  later 
charged  by  the  state.  There  was  no  organized  gang  with  consti- 
tuted leadership  that  deliberately  planned  attacks  on  the  railroad 
for  a  clearly  conceived  common  end.  The  opposition  to  the  Michi- 
gan Central  in  Jackson  County  was  rather  a  loose  and  informal 
affair,  with  an  open  and  reckless  impulsiveness,  entirely  lacking  in 
secrecy,  compounded  of  common  resentment,  illegal  intent,  alco- 
holic spontaneity,  and  criminal  acts.  It  verged  on  conspiracy  but 
never  quite  jelled  into  the  necessary  consistency  of  purpose, 
method,  and  execution. 

This  communal  hostility  to  the  railroad  also  had  its  roots  in  com- 
plaints other  than  those  over  the  destruction  of  livestock.  The  ad- 
ditional sources  of  friction  did  not  loom  so  large  in  the  minds  of 
those  who  frequented  Filley's  tavern  or  went  out  to  stone  the  trains 
from  Fitch's  peach  orchard.  But  elsewhere  in  Jackson  County  and 
in  the  state  at  large,  they  created  strong  resentment  against  the 
railroad,  which  together  with  the  ill  will  engendered  by  the  killing 
of  cattle,  was  the  basis  of  a  broad  antirailroad  movement  that 
sought  publicly  and  legally  to  regulate  and  curb  the  powers  of  the 
offending  corporation. 

Inevitable  sources  of  friction  were  the  condemnation  proceed- 
ings for  lands  taken  over  for  the  right  of  way,  stations,  warehouses 
and  shops,  as  well  as  the  contract  jobs  for  the  construction  of  fences 
along  the  line  of  the  road.  Farmers  invariably  found  the  company's 
offers  too  low  and  the  resultant  court  proceedings  only  served  as 
irritants.  Fences  remained  unbuilt  or  in  some  cases  were  even  torn 
down.  Even  the  man  of  God  at  Marshall,  John  D.  Pierce,  refused  to 
build  fence  at  the  company's  price  of  5i-75  per  one  hundred  rails. 
In  the  mind  of  one  young  farm  laborer,  the  chief  subject  of  dis- 
cussion at  Michigan  Centre  during  the  many  months  he  worked 
there  was  the  company's  wage  policies.  He  remembered  that  there 
was  something  said  about  the  railroad  being  a  monopoly,  and  that 
a  feeling  was  getting  up  against  them  because  they  hired  help  very 
cheap,  did  not  pay  wages  enough,  and  had  a  tendency  to  render 
wages  low.  Once  Fitch,  elaborating  on  the  complaints  against  the 
company,  catalogued  the  whole  list  of  its  sins.  He  reiterated  his 
charge  that  it  was  "a  damned  monopoly."  He  said  he  thought  "the 
road  was  damned  poorly  managed  and  that  a  boy  ten  years  old 


would  manage  it  better  than  Superintendent  Brooks."  He  thought 
the  chief  engineer  in  charge  of  construction  would  be  a  better 
superintendent  than  Brooks,  for  he  thought  the  company  ought  to 
pay  for  cattle  killed.  Fitch  said  the  road  carried  produce  from  Niles 
as  cheap  as  it  did  from  Jackson,  and  that  it  had  fixed  the  price 
of  men  at  I500,  referring  to  the  amount  paid  to  the  widow  of  a 
man  who  had  been  killed  by  a  train  the  year  before  at  Galesburg.^^ 

It  was  the  charges  of  unfair  freight  rates  and  monopoly  practices 
that  were  taken  up  most  widely  in  the  state.  Jackson  County  ship- 
pers had  complained  of  high  rates  back  in  1846  when  the  state  had 
owned  the  railroad.  Then,  in  1848,  some  shippers  in  Kalamazoo 
had  protested  to  Superintendent  Brooks  against  what  they  thought 
was  unfair  discrimination  in  the  rates  for  carrying  their  produce  to 
Detroit:  the  rates  from  Niles  to  Detroit  were  less  than  those  from 
Kalamazoo  to  Detroit,  a  shorter  haul  by  some  fifty  miles.  Brooks,  in 
a  published  pamphlet,  justified  the  cheaper  long-haul  rate  by  the 
necessity  of  meeting  water-shipping  competition  at  Niles,  which 
had  access  to  Lake  Michigan  via  the  St.  Joseph  River.  The  cheaper 
rates  and  hence  the  greater  volume  of  business  from  Niles,  he 
argued,  actually  enabled  the  company  to  charge  lower  rates  from 
Kalamazoo  than  would  otherwise  have  been  possible.  In  1849,  after 
the  railroad  had  been  finished  to  New  Buffalo  on  the  lake,  the 
Whig  American  Citizen  of  Jackson,  with  no  desire  to  ignore  a  pop- 
ular issue,  took  up  the  hue  and  cry.  Its  editor  fulminated  against 
the  "dastardly  course"  the  railroad  had  pursued  in  charging  the 
citizens  of  the  interior  of  the  state  nearly  double  the  price  charged 
those  of  other  states  for  half  the  distance.  Brooks  evidently  was 
fighting  the  lake  shipping  companies  for  the  Chicago  and  Mil- 
waukee trade  with  the  weapon  of  cheaper  long  hauls.  But  the 
Jackson  editor  could  only  see  the  "enormous  charges"  of  the  "Cen- 
tral railroad  monopoly"  which  in  his  mind  were  responsible  for 
the  lower  prices  that  local  products  brought  and  the  bad  state  of 
business  in  general  in  Jackson  County.  He  denounced  the  road  as 
a  "shameful  monopoly"  and  a  "humbug  concern,"  and  repeatedly 
urged  the  necessity  of  a  connecting  line  from  Jackson  to  the  Mich- 
igan Southern  Railroad  at  Adrian  to  give  Jackson  shippers  another 
outlet  to  the  east,  at  Monroe  on  Lake  Erie,  and  thus  break  the 
monopoly  of  the  Michigan  Central.^s 

The  accumulated  grievances  snowballed  into  a  strong  anti- 

[  25  ] 

monopoly  sentiment.  Again  and  again,  in  the  press,  in  the  legis- 
lature, at  meetings  of  citizens,  and  in  Filley's  tavern,  the  railroad 
was  attacked  as  a  corporate  monopoly  whose  greed  would  not  be 
satisfied  until  it  had  gobbled  up  the  wealth  of  the  state  and  the 
freedom  of  the  people.  Fitch  and  his  friends,  as  we  have  seen,  did 
not  hide  their  feelings  about  the  absolute  corruption  of  this  abso- 
lute economic  power;  one  of  the  company's  spies,  in  order  to  gain 
their  confidence,  found  it  advisable  to  talk  "against  the  Road"  and 
call  it  a  monopoly.  An  angr)'  citizen  wTote  a  letter  to  the  American 
Citizen,  which,  echoing  the  editorial  opinion  of  the  paper,  rang 
the  changes  on  the  theme  and  demanded  to  know  how  long  the 
people  would  suffer  the  railroad  to  dominate  them.  At  Coldwater 
and  at  Napoleon,  the  citizens  met  to  protest  against  the  monopoly 
of  the  Michigan  Central  Railroad.  In  the  legislature  at  Lansing, 
the  drift  of  public  opinion  was  crystallized  in  the  warning  that 
"the  Michigan  Central  Railroad  Company  may  possibly,  sooner 
or  later,  discover  that  they  did  not  make  the  State  of  Michigan, 
but  that  the  State  of  Michigan  made  the  company."  -^ 

Opposition  to  the  Michigan  Central's  privileged  position  must 
have  been  strengthened  by  a  decision  of  the  Supreme  Court  of 
Michigan  in  July,  1851.  A  farmer  in  Wayne  County  had  brought 
suit  for  damages  against  the  company  for  horses  that  had  been 
killed  by  a  train.  The  county  court  sent  the  case  up  to  the  Supreme 
Court  for  adjudication,  possibly  as  part  of  the  same  plan  Super- 
intendent Brooks  had  offered  to  the  citizens  of  Jackson  County. 
The  court  decided.  Judge  Abner  Pratt  of  Marshall  writing  the 
opinion,  that  the  railroad  was  not  bound  by  its  charter  or  the 
common  law  to  fence  the  right  of  way  for  the  protection  of  other 
persons'  domestic  animals,  and  that  inasmuch  as  the  operation  of 
trains  was  entirely  lawful,  it  could  not  be  held  liable  for  accidental 
damage  to  property  where  no  negligence  on  its  part  was  proven. 
On  the  face  of  it,  this  decision  seemed  to  bear  out  all  of  Fitch's 
accusations  against  the  company  and  the  courts.  As  one  citizen  ex- 
pressed it  in  a  letter  to  the  newspaper:  "Railroad  gold  bought 
[the]  decision."  And  even  the  Democratic  paper  in  Jackson, 
though  accepting  the  court's  decision,  felt  moved  to  criticize  the 
company  for  not  going  beyond  the  law  and  paying  fair  value  for 
cattle  killed  in  a  newly  settled  state  where  the  farmers  could  not 
possibly  have  enclosed  pasturages  for  their  livestock.^^ 

[26  ] 

Judge  Pratt,  in  denying  the  validity  of  one  contention  of  the 
plaintiffs,  suggested  a  method  of  redress.  He  held  that  the  broader 
argument  that  the  Michigan  Central's  charter  "contains  powers 
and  privileges  which  were  improvidently  granted  by  the  legisla- 
ture .  .  ."  had  no  bearing  on  the  case  at  hand.  In  thus  limiting  the 
competence  of  the  court,  he  was  suggesting  that  what  the  law- 
makers had  given,  only  the  lawmakers  could  take  away.  This  con- 
clusion, which  the  opponents  of  the  road  had  more  than  sensed 
heretofore,  was  now  driven  convincingly  home.  Their  future 
course  of  action  was  ineluctably  fixed— a  campaign  to  amend  or 
even  annul  the  railroad's  charter,  and  in  the  name  of  justice,  free- 
dom, and  competition  open  the  way  for  the  general  incorporation 
of  all  railroads  under  a  system  of  public  regulation. ^^ 

The  charter  that  the  legislature  had  granted,  or  more  precisely 
sold,  to  the  Michigan  Central  Railroad  in  1846  had  indeed  con- 
ferred monopoly  power  in  perpetuity  on  the  corporation.  Though 
not  without  protest  on  democratic  grounds  against  the  lordly 
grant,  on  the  one  hand,  and  powerful  financial  pressures  for  it, 
on  the  other,  the  legislature  had  to  a  degree  acted  under  the  influ- 
ence of  an  older  conception  in  creating  a  corporation  with 
monopoly  privileges.  It  had  enfranchised  a  body  politic  to  act  for 
a  desirable  public  end  where  the  state  had  been  unable  to  achieve 
that  end.  The  corporation  was,  in  theory  certainly,  an  arm  of  the 
state,  not  yet  wholly  a  mere  business  form,  and  as  such  entitled 
to  the  fullest  measure  of  power  and  protection  to  enable  it  to 
realize  its  specific  corporate  aims.  The  rapid  development  of  eco- 
nomic forces,  the  American  conception  of  equality  of  opportunity 
for  all,  and  the  instinct  that  the  state  had  no  interests  aside  from 
those  of  the  people  soon  brought  this  mercantilistic  conception  of 
the  corporation  under  attack.  Monopoly  was  reviled  as  oppres- 
sive and  destructive  of  the  rights  of  freeborn  citizens;  it  stifled  the 
development  of  a  new  country;  only  regulation  by  the  people  and 
competition  through  the  multiplication  of  corporations  were  con- 
sonant with  the  ideals  of  this  new-found  land  of  liberty.^- 

John  D.  Pierce  was  voicing  this  point  of  view  in  1849  when  he 
coupled  his  attack  on  the  railroad's  policies  with  the  contention 
that  the  legislature  had  no  authority  to  confer  on  a  corporation 
"rights,  the  exercise  of  which  would  bring  them  into  daily  collision 
and  conflict  with  [the]  citizens."  In  other  words,  he  was  arguing 


that  the  actions  of  the  company  since  its  incorporation  had  been 
such  as  to  invalidate  its  franchise.  The  next  year,  Pierce  carried  his 
fight  from  the  newspapers  to  the  constitutional  convention  where 
he  served  as  a  delegate  from  Calhoun  County.  He  introduced  the 
resolution  which  was  later  written  into  the  article  on  corporations 
of  the  revised  constitution,  making  possible  the  formation  of  cor- 
porations under  general  laws  and  forbidding  the  legislature  to  pass 
any  individual  acts  of  incorporation  except  municipal.  This  pro- 
vision, while  not  affecting  those  special  charters  already  granted, 
was  designed  to  prevent  the  issuance  of  corporate  charters  with 
special  or  monopoly  privileges  usually  wrung  from  the  legislature 
by  political  and  financial  pressures.  It  was  also  prompted  by  dis- 
gust with  the  dogfights  of  opjDOsing  lobbies  which  besieged  the 
legislature  at  each  session,  requesting  new  or  protecting  old  char- 
ters, amidst  loud  charges  of  corruption.  Thus,  by  constitutional 
action,  the  status  of  the  corporation  in  Michigan  was  transformed 
from  that  of  a  privileged  arm  of  the  state  to  an  ordinary  business 
form  accessible  to  all  qualified  applicants.  While  the  state  thereby 
lost  its  power  of  directing  economic  enterprise  to  desirable  ends, 
it  retained,  in  principle,  its  power  to  regulate  business  in  the 
name  of  the  public  welfare.^^ 

The  new  constitution  as  adopted  also  forbade  the  renewal  or 
extension  of  corporate  charters  previously  granted  and  removed 
the  thirty  year  period  of  grace  within  which  these  charters  could 
not  be  amended.  With  no  success,  Delegate  Pierce  tried  to  make  a 
general  incorporation  law  for  all  business  enterprise  part  of  the 
constitution  in  order  to  give  positive  effect  to  the  mandatory  pro- 
vision. And  he  fought  generally,  though  in  vain,  to  curb  the  powers 
of  the  corporate  monopolies.  He  insisted  on  holding  up  the  public 
interest  as  the  supreme  criterion  of  the  right  to  a  corporate  exist- 
ence. "When  a  charter  becomes  detrimental  to  the  public  interest," 
he  asserted  in  the  constitutional  debates,  "it  ceases  to  answer  the 
professed  end  of  its  creator,  and  may  and  ought  to  be  repealed.  .  . 
Those  vested  rights,  created  by  charters,  must  yield,  when  they 
come  in  conflict  with  the  supreme  law— the  public  good."  Re- 
membering his  own  and  others'  losses  of  cattle.  Pierce  also  intro- 
duced a  resolution  providing  that  "In  all  cases  where  damage  is 
done  by  any  corporation  to  private  property,  the  corporation  shall 
pay  to  the  full  amount  of  such  damage."  When  this  resolution  was 


buried  in  committee,  Pierce  later  offered  an  amendment  to  the 
article  on  corporations  to  the  same  effect,  but  that  too  failed  of 

The  railroad  interests  were  also  able  to  fend  off  regulatory  at- 
tacks in  the  legislatures  of  1850  and  1851.  These  attacks  were  led 
by  Michael  Shoemaker,  who  owned  a  flour  mill  in  Michigan  Centre 
and  represented  Jackson  County  in  the  state  senate.  As  chairman 
pro  tem  of  the  senate  and  chairman  of  its  committee  on  incorpora- 
tions, he  was  a  figure  of  some  importance  in  Democratic  councils. 
Twice,  in  1850  and  in  1851,  he  introduced  a  bill  to  provide  for 
police  regulations  along  the  line  of  the  railroads,  requiring  the 
companies  to  fence  their  roads,  build  cattle  guards  at  crossings 
and  maintain  warning  signs  there,  and  put  bells  on  the  locomo- 
tives. Shoemaker  stated  that  the  object  of  his  bill  was  to  "protect 
our  farmers  from  the  loss  of  their  cattle  by  being  run  over  by 
trains  of  cars."  The  opponents  of  the  bill  necessarily  approved  of 
this  worthy  aim  but  insisted  that  it  infringed  on  vested  rights,  de- 
spite the  opinion  of  the  attorney  general  to  the  contrary.  The  bill 
passed  the  senate  twice  but  was  twice  defeated  in  the  lower  house 
by  the  influence  of  the  railroad  lobbyists.^^ 

Fitch,  too,  spent  two  or  three  weeks  in  Lansing  in  1851  as  self- 
appointed  lobbyist  for  the  people,  using  whatever  influence  he  had 
to  support  any  measures  that  would  put  pressure  on  the  Michigan 
Central.  He  undoubtedly  worked  hard  to  get  Shoemaker's  bill 
passed.  He  joined  forces  with  those  who  were  trying  to  get  a  rail- 
road built  from  Jackson  to  Adrian  to  give  Jackson  an  alternate 
outlet  for  its  products.  The  completion  of  this  railroad,  which  had 
been  chartered  in  1836  as  the  Palmyra  and  Jacksonburg  and  had 
been  built  only  to  Tecumseh,  had  been  required  of  the  Michigan 
Southern  by  the  terms  of  its  original  charter.  The  Southern,  how- 
ever, had  done  nothing,  and  the  Jackson  interests,  led  by  Amos 
Root,  merchant,  now  in  1851  exerted  themselves  to  get  it  to  carry 
out  this  part  of  its  charter.  For  its  part,  the  Southern  had  no  par- 
ticular interest  in  the  Jackson  Branch,  as  the  projected  road  was 
known.  But  it  was  now  engaged  in  a  race  with  the  Michigan  Cen- 
tral to  push  through  to  Chicago,  and  the  two  rival  roads  were 
fighting  each  other  in  the  legislatures  of  Michigan,  Indiana,  and 
Illinois.  John  Stryker,  chief  of  the  Southern  Railroad  lobby,  ac- 
cordingly held  out  the  bait  of  the  Jackson  Branch  to  the  Jackson 


County  people  to  get  their  support  for  his  own  bill  to  allow  the 
Southern  to  leave  the  state  of  Michigan  on  the  road  to  Chicago. 
Root,  Fitch,  and  the  others  were  not  loath  to  give  Stryker  this  sup- 
port and  use  the  Southern  Railroad  as  a  cudgel  in  their  own  fight 
with  the  Michigan  Central. ^s 

Stryker  was  not  able  to  muster  the  necessary  two-thirds  majority 
for  his  amendment  to  the  Southern's  charter.  He  then  shifted  his 
strategy  and  backed  a  general  railroad  incorporation  law  requiring 
only  an  ordinary  majority  vote,  planning  to  get  the  connection 
with  Indiana  under  such  a  law.  The  Jackson  foes  of  the  Michigan 
Central  wholeheartedly  supported  this  move,  it  being  entirely  in 
accord  with  their  own  plans  too.  Shoemaker  of  Jackson  reported 
out  such  a  bill  from  his  committee,  but  here  too,  the  Central  forces 
under  the  leadership  of  James  F.  Joy  were  able  to  defeat  it.^^ 

The  Michigan  Central  Railroad,  it  seems,  had  much  greater  suc- 
cess in  coping  with  its  opponents  in  Lansing  than  with  those  in 
Jackson  County  who  were  determined  to  bring  it  to  terms  by  vio- 
lence. The  summer  of  1850  had  come  and  almost  gone  and  Super- 
intendent Brooks  had  not  as  yet  been  able  to  apprehend  any  of  the 
criminals.  The  situation  became,  if  not  desperate,  measurably  ag- 
gravated as  the  railroad's  troubles  were  bruited  about  in  the  East 
and  began  to  drive  travel  to  the  lake  steamers.  The  whole  task  of 
ferreting  out  the  depredators  and  collecting  enough  evidence  to 
convict  them  required  more  attention  than  Brooks  could  spare 
from  his  large  duties.  Different  and  more  thorough  methods  would 
be  necessary  to  breach  the  protective  community-consciousness  of 
the  men  of  Michigan  Centre,  Leoni,  and  Grass  Lake. 

Brooks'  first  step  was  to  hire,  some  time  in  the  summer  of  1850, 
Darius  Clark  of  Marshall  to  undertake  the  job  of  catching  the 
felons.  Clark  was  an  experienced  business  man,  a  member  of  the 
firm  of  Nash  and  Clark  of  Marshall,  contractors  who  had  done 
construction  work  for  the  railroad  in  western  Michigan.  He  was  a 
quiet,  likable  man,  not  hitherto  mixed  up  in  the  controversy,  and 
unknown  to  the  "conspirators."  He  got  to  work  in  August  and 
hired  a  number  of  agents  who  were  to  operate  secretly  at  Michigan 
Centre.  Some  were  friends  or  employees  of  his  from  Marshall  who 
went  to  the  Centre  and  worked  there  in  one  fictitious  capacity  or 
another.  Others  were  men  from  Jackson  and  vicinity  who  were  put 
to  watching  the  tracks  at  two  dollars  a  night  in  the  troubled  area. 


Still  others  went  to  the  Centre  on  a  full-time  basis  and  lived  and 
worked  there,  watching,  talking,  listening,  drinking,  and  making 
reports.  Clark  also  used  the  railroad's  money,  men,  and  facilities 
to  seek  out  persons  who  had  lived  in  or  near  Michigan  Centre 
during  the  trouble  and  had  since  moved  away,  in  order  to  get  them 
to  tell  what  they  knew.^^ 

In  a  short  time,  Clark  was  directing  a  small  organization  of  secret 
agents  or  spies,  or  "colonists,"  as  John  Murray  Forbes,  president  of 
the  railroad,  liked  to  call  them,  who  met  their  chief  at  intervals  in 
Jackson,  Marshall,  or  Detroit  and  made  reports  and  affidavits  as  to 
their  findings.  Clark  reported  on  his  progress  directly  to  Brooks  in 
Detroit,  sometimes  in  person  and  sometimes  by  messenger.  His 
written  reports  show  that  he  worked  slowly  and  cautiously  but 
determinedly.  "Time  and  deliberation  will  surely  do  it,"  he  ad- 
vised Brooks.  "There  is  nothing  gained  in  pushing  this  thing  fast," 
he  assured  his  anxious  superior,  and  kept  stressing  the  need  for 
absolute  secrecy  on  the  part  of  all  concerned.^^ 

Not  being  a  lawyer,  Clark  got  the  judge  of  the  Circuit  Court  of 
Jackson  County  and  ipso  facto  a  member  of  the  Supreme  Court  of 
Michigan,  Abner  Pratt,  of  Marshall,  to  help  him  to  evaluate  the 
evidence.  Pratt,  who  was  to  write  the  Supreme  Court  decision  ab- 
solving the  railroad  of  liability  for  property  damage  little  more 
than  a  year  hence,  took  hold  of  the  matter  "with  his  usual  energy." 
By  the  middle  of  August,  he  was  assuring  Clark  that  he  had  enough 
evidence  for  a  strong  case,  with  the  latter  insisting  cautiously  that 
it  was  not  enough.  Soon  Pratt  was  saying— with  what  degree  of 
judicial  impartiality  is  difficult  to  surmise— that  "if  it  is  all  right  he 
will  guarantee  a  conviction."  Clark  still  demurred:  "I  am  not  so 
confident  yet."  By  the  end  of  August,  as  the  evidence  kept  coming 
in,  the  judge  told  Clark  that  conspiracy  charges  were  the  best 
method  of  attack  and  actually  drew  up  the  form  of  an  indictment 
for  conspiracy  against  Fitch  and  the  others,  and  sent  it  to  the 
prosecuting  attorney  of  Jackson  County  to  be  used  before  the 
grand  jury  at  the  proper  time.  By  November,  Clark  was  "in  hopes" 
that  he  had  sufficient  evidence  to  spring  the  trap,  and  halt  the  in- 
creasing number  of  accidents  that  now  plagued  the  trains  in  the 
vicinity  of  Michigan  Centre.  First,  however,  he  wrote  Brooks  that 
he  would  like  to  show  him  what  evidence  he  had  so  far,  as  though 
to  have  Brooks  dispel  whatever  doubts  he,  Clark,  might  have, 

[31  ] 

adding  that  he  expected  more  "would  be  brought  out  on  a  trial."  ^^ 
Clark's  instinctive  caution  got  the  upper  hand  and  no  arrests 
were  made  at  the  time.  A  new  and  unlocked  for  contingency,  the 
destruction  by  fire  of  the  freight  depot  in  Detroit,  changed  the 
whole  aspect  of  the  case  and  demanded  further  and  more  thorough 
investigation.  In  any  case,  a  large  part  of  the  evidence  thus  far  ob- 
tained was  indirect,  consisting  of  admissions  by  Fitch  and  his 
friends  to  the  agents,  and  hence  highly  vulnerable  in  court.  The 
amount  of  direct  proof  was  understandably  small,  in  view  of  the 
secrecy  in  which  the  road's  enemies  cloaked  their  operations.  The 
entire  investigation,  moreover,  was  greatly  hampered  when  one  of 
Clark's  chief  agents  was  early  discovered  and  exposed  as  a  spy. 
All  the  other  agents  were  then  sooner  or  later  compromised  as  the 
Centreites  came  to  suspect  anybody  and  everybody  who  had  not  for 
years  been  a  resident  of  the  community.  And  the  doubled  caution 
of  Fitch  and  his  fellows  made  the  procurement  of  further  direct 
evidence  by  other  spies  commensurately  difficult.  Fitch,  undoubt- 
edly the  brains  of  the  group,  became  exceedingly  cautious,  "know- 
ing as  [he]  did  that  large  rewards  had  been  ofEered  for  [his]  convic- 
tion and  that  secret  spyes  were  laying  in  wait  for  [him]."^i 

It  was  at  this  point  that  William  D.  Wescott,  the  exposed  spy, 
greatly  aided  Clark  by  making  available  new  sources  of  informa- 
tion. Wescott  was  one  of  the  first  agents  that  Clark  hired  and  at 
the  time,  in  August,  1850,  was  a  clerk  in  a  hotel  in  Jackson,  about 
to  take  a  job  as  a  guard  in  the  state  prison  there.  He  had  behind 
him  a  nondescript  career  as  barkeep  and  unsuccessful  business  man 
in  Nankin,  Wayne  County,  and  up  north  at  Mackinac,  where  he 
had  been  under  indictment  for  forgery.  Of  shrewd  though  limited 
intelligence,  he  had  probably  been  referred  to  Clark  by  the  rail- 
road officials  in  Jackson  because  he  had  lived  in  Michigan  Centre 
in  the  spring  of  the  year  and  still  went  there  on  Sundays  to  see  his 
wife  who  boarded  with  her  father. 

Clark  first  had  to  get  Wescott  temporarily  released  from  his 
prison  job.  Brooks  wrote  Justus  Goodwin,  superintendent  of  the 
prison,  asking  for  Wescott's  services  for  the  railroad  "for  a  couple 
of  weeks  or  so"  without  revealing  the  purpose  beyond  the  assur- 
ance that  "he  would  be  of  most  essential  service  to  us,  and  prob- 
ably to  the  public,  in  the  furtherance  of  some  matters  of  public 
interest  as  well  as  of  the  interest  of  the  company."  Goodwin  oblig- 

[32  ] 

ingly  released  Wescott,  pointedly  informing  Brooks  that  the 
"scoundrels"  in  Leoni  Township  had  aroused  nothing  but  indig- 
nation in  Jackson.  Clark  thereupon  put  Wescott  on  the  payroll 
as  a  secret  agent  at  S40  a  month,  even  though  he  could  not  alto- 
gether overcome  his  distrust  of  the  man.  He  had  not  been  too  well 
impressed  in  talking  to  him  and  doubted  his  integrity.  He  sus- 
pected him  of  "playing  a  double  game"  and  did  not  like  the  fact 
that  Wescott  "call[ed]  for  money  the  first  thing."  ^2 

Wescott  went  to  Michigan  Centre  on  August  19  to  live  with  his 
father-in-law.  He  spent  his  days  talking  and  drinking  with  the  boys 
and  "laying  out  at  nights"  in  Fitch's  and  Filley's  yards,  along  the 
track,  or  eavesdropping  under  Fitch's  windows.  He  let  it  be  known 
that  he  was  taking  a  long  rest  at  Michigan  Centre  because  he  was 
tired  of  tending  bar  and  "it  was  too  hard  for  him  to  be  up  so  much 
nights."  At  the  tavern,  he  talked  against  the  railroad,  called  it  a 
monopoly,  and  advertised  his  hard  feelings  in  order  to  gain  his 
listeners'  confidence.  Fitch  called  him  "one  of  the  boys"  and  the 
accolade  was  confirmed  by  a  drink  on  the  part  of  all  present.  Wes- 
cott was  soon  on  quite  intimate  terms  with  Fitch;  the  latter  invited 
him  to  his  parlor  to  eat  fruit  and  drink  cherry  whiskey  and  brandy 
and  confided  all  that  had  been  done  and  all  that  was  planned 
against  the  railroad.  He  had  so  far  advanced  in  the  good  graces  of 
Fitch  that  the  latter  actually  proposed  to  him  to  take  over  and  run 
Filley's  tavern.  Fitch  assured  him  he  would  make  money  and  said 
it  would  accommodate  him  and  his  friends  to  have  it  kept  up  bet- 
ter than  Filley  kept  it. 

Wescott  was  thus  in  a  position  to  gather  much  information  for 
his  employer  on  the  sentiments  expressed,  the  crimes  committed, 
and  those  planned  at  the  Centre.  He  must  have  greatly  endeared 
himself  to  Clark  and  Brooks  when  he  warned  of  a  projected  "grand 
smash"  at  the  time  of  the  state  fair  in  Ann  Arbor  in  September, 
1850.  He  reported  to  Clark  that  Fitch  had  told  him  that  he  and  the 
boys  were  determined  to  bring  the  company  to  terms  before  the 
state  fair  was  over;  that  he.  Fitch,  meant  to  show  the  people  of 
Michigan  that  the  feeling  against  the  company  did  not  exist  alone 
in  Leoni  by  throwing  off  the  cars  all  the  way  from  west  of  Jackson 
to  east  of  Grass  Lake;  that  they  hoped  to  kill  100  to  150  passengers 
during  the  fair  and  if  that  failed,  to  burn  the  railroad  depots  at 
Detroit,  Ann  Arbor,  Jackson,  and  Niles.  He  further  revealed  that 

[33  ] 

Filley  planned  to  throw  off  a  train  at  the  Dry  Marsh  where  the 
dead  passengers  would  be  buried  so  deep  in  the  mud  that  there 
would  be  no  need  of  coffins  or  sexton.  The  whole  murderous  plan, 
according  to  Wescott,  was  to  be  climaxed  by  a  demand  of  $100,000 
blackmail  from  the  company  to  call  off  the  attack.  Wescott's  hor- 
rendous report  led  to  immediate  action.  A  special  train  was  sent 
out  before  the  fair  began  and  nearly  a  hundred  special  watchmen 
were  stationed  along  the  track  at  the  threatened  points.  Clark  and 
Brooks  were  certain  that  this  timely  action  forced  the  conspirators 
to  give  up  their  evil  design  and  credited  Wescott  with  saving  the 
railroad  from  destruction. 

It  was  not  long  before  Wescott's  real  purpose  at  the  Centre  was 
discovered.  Once  or  twice  he  had  narrowly  escaped  being  caught 
on  his  nightly  prowls,  but  his  luck  ran  out  after  he  had  been  at  the 
Centre  not  more  than  a  few  weeks.  One  evening  early  in  Septem- 
ber, Benjamin  Gleason,  who  was  a  friend  of  Fitch  and  who  worked 
at  the  state  prison,  came  down  to  the  Centre  to  see  him.  Fitch, 
Filley,  Wescott,  and  a  fourth  were  playing  euchre  in  the  parlor. 
Gleason  called  Fitch  out  of  the  room  and  told  him  that  he  had 
seen  a  letter  at  the  prison  in  which  Brooks  asked  for  Wescott's 
services  and  that  he  was  probably  a  railroad  spy.  Fitch  went  back 
and  called  Filley  into  consulation.  Wescott  sensed  that  something 
was  up.  When  Fitch  and  Filley  returned  the  game  was  resumed,  but 
there  was  a  coolness  in  the  air  and  they  did  not  play  euchre  much 
longer  that  night. 

A  few  days  later,  Gleason  came  down  once  more  and  this  time 
produced  Brooks'  letter  to  Goodwin.  It  was  not  certain  proof  of 
Wescott's  treachery  but  showed  that  he  was  working  for  the  rail- 
road in  some  capacity.  Gleason  summarily  accused  Wescott  of 
being  "a  damned  railroad  spy"  who  ought  to  have  his  throat  cut. 
Filley  confronted  the  suspect  the  next  day  with  Gleason's  evidence 
but  he  coolly  denied  he  was  a  spy.  Fitch  called  Wescott  to  his  house 
and  asked  him  if  Brooks  had  employed  him  as  a  spy.  When  he 
denied  the  accusation.  Fitch  asked  him  to  explain  away  the  letter. 
Wescott,  thinking  fast,  answered  that  Brooks  had  hired  him  to 
trace  a  trunk  that  one  of  the  railroad's  patrons  claimed  had  been 
lost.  Fitch  was  incredulous  and  said  the  company  had  bigger  busi- 
ness to  look  after  and  that  the  letter  was  proof  enough  for  him 
that  he,  Wescott,  was  a  spy.  The  latter  then  suggested,  with  more 


audacity  than  cunning,  that  Fitch  go  to  Detroit  and  check  the 
matter  with  Brooks. 

Knowledge  of  Brooks'  letter  sufficed  to  convince  most  of  the 
patrons  of  Filley's  that  Wescott  was  a  spy.  They  avoided  him  but 
did  not  fail  to  let  him  know  in  one  way  or  another  what  they  would 
do  to  spies  in  general  and  him  in  particular  if  he  were  ever  to 
testify  against  them.  Fitch  threatened  to  shoot  him  on  the  stand 
and  if  he  couldn't  do  it  himself,  "by  God,  he  had  friends  enough 
that  would  do  it."  The  boys  added  their  own  threats  to  Fitch's 
and  declared  that  they  would  shoot  a  spy  as  quick  as  they  would  a 
dog.  Later,  they  discussed  a  plan  to  bludgeon  Wescott  to  death  and 
made  sure  that  Joshua  Wells,  Wescott's  brother-in-law,  overheard 
them.  Wells,  as  expected,  carried  the  news  to  Wescott  and  the  lat- 
ter immediately  informed  his  employers  that  his  life  was  in  danger. 
He  even  told  Clark  that  he  himself  had  crawled  under  the  floor  of 
Filley's  tavern  and  heard  his  life  auctioned  off  for  $100.  Clark, 
realizing  that  the  man's  usefulness  was  at  an  end,  gave  him  a  job 
in  the  depot  at  Detroit.  This  did  not  prevent  Wescott  from  carry- 
ing on  officiously  as  a  self-styled  detective,  but  by  March,  1851, 
even  Clark  had  had  enough  of  him.  He  asked  that  Wescott  be 
given  something  to  do  that  would  "keep  him  off  the  railroad  en- 
tirely," giving  as  his  reasons  that  the  fellow  just  could  not  get 
along  with  the  other  men  working  on  the  case.  A  little  later,  Clark 
kept  the  irrespressible  Wescott  from  making  a  trip  east  in  search 
of  information  because  he  felt  that  his  lack  of  discretion  might 
harm  the  whole  investigation.^^ 

Before  Wescott  had  left  the  Centre,  he  had  been  able  to  do  a 
great  service  for  his  employers.  He  persuaded  two  young  men  of  the 
place  to  come  out  and  tell  all  they  knew  on  the  promise  of  good 
jobs  with  the  company.  In  September,  he  got  Horace  Caswell,  a 
young  laborer  who  had  never  had  more  than  odd  jobs  at  the  Centre, 
to  go  to  work  at  the  railroad  depot  in  Detroit.  Two  months  later, 
Caswell  was  making  out  affidavits  to  help  build  up  the  company's 
case  against  the  conspirators.  In  November,  Wescott  told  his  young 
brother-in-law,  Joshua  Wells,  of  his  own  work  with  the  railroad 
and  promised  him  he  should  have  a  good  situation  if  he  would 
come  out  and  be  a  man.  Wells  accepted  the  offer  and  was  also 
placed  in  the  Detroit  depot,  and  soon  thereafter  began  to  provide 
Clark  with  valuable  evidence.  Both  he  and  Caswell  were  able  to 


incriminate  Fitch  himself  by  telling  how  he  had  given  them  his 
pistols  to  use  in  shooting  at  a  train,  although  they  never  had  ac- 
tually discharged  them. 

One  other  young  resident  of  the  Centre,  however,  proved  not  so 
pliable  as  Wells  and  Caswell  and  was  to  suffer  for  his  obduracy. 
Miner  Lay  cock,  scarcely  twenty-one  years  old,  also  jumped  at  the 
opportunity  to  go  to  work  for  the  railroad  in  Detroit,  but  when  he 
found  out  it  meant  betraying  his  friends  at  Michigan  Centre,  re- 
fused to  talk  and  was  summarily  dismissed.  He  later  was  arrested 
with  the  other  "railroad  conspirators"  and  spent  six  months  in  jail. 

Of  all  those  to  turn  state's  evidence,  Jacob  Wolliver  delivered 
the  most  damaging  blows  to  Fitch  and  company.  Wolliver  had 
lived  at  Leoni  during  the  summer  of  1850  and  worked  for  Filley 
most  of  the  time,  tending  bar,  trapping  pigeons,  fishing  for  pickerel, 
and  doing  odd  jobs.  Filley  called  him  his  "devil"  and  had  always 
found  him  ready  to  go  out  and  tear  up  a  piece  of  track  or  stone 
the  trains,  especially  after  he  had  been  fortified  by  some  of  Filley's 
whiskey,  to  which  he  had  free  access  with  no  questions  asked.  Along 
about  the  fall  of  the  year,  Wolliver  succumbed  to  the  blandish- 
ments of  the  railroad  and  accepted  a  job  at  Albion.  As  he  was  about 
to  leave,  he  found  himself  at  odds  with  his  employer,  Filley,  over 
the  amount  of  his  wages,  claiming  that  he  was  not  being  paid 
enough  and  that  he  was  being  charged  for  more  whiskey  than  he 
had  consumed.  The  two  finally  compromised  on  a  deduction  of 
six  to  eight  dollars  for  a  barrel  of  whiskey,  but  Wolliver  left  dis- 
satisfied, even  after  Fitch  himself  had  called  him  in  and  tried  to 
mollify  him,  realizing  that  Wolliver  knew  too  much  to  leave  the 
Centre  with  any  ill  will.  From  Albion,  word  soon  came  to  Filley 
that  Wolliver  was  going  to  testify  against  his  former  employer  and 
friends.  Filley  was  not  too  concerned  over  the  prospect  of  Wolliver's 
betrayal  for  he  was  sure  that  they  "could  swear  him  to  hell."  He 
went  to  Albion,  nevertheless,  to  caution  him  not  to  talk,  for  he 
felt  that  a  little  caution  "went  a  damned  ways"  sometimes.  Filley 
reinforced  his  warning  vnth  a  threat,  but  Wolliver  had  made  up 
his  mind  to  reveal  all  and  was  able  to  give  Clark  some  direct  first- 
hand evidence  of  attacks  on  the  road  by  himself  in  company  with 
the  boys. 

The  defection  of  their  own  kind  and  the  exposure  of  Wescott 
embittered  the  boys  to  the  point  of  overweening  suspicion.  They 

[36  ] 

reiterated  with  vigor  their  threats  against  spies  and  ranted  of  the 
murderous  means  they  would  use  to  stop  the  mouths  of  informers. 
At  times,  the  more  volatile  of  them,  in  the  heat  of  argument  or  in 
their  cups,  even  let  their  hatred  and  suspicion  explode  into  brutal 
violence  against  someone  they  distrusted  or  merely  disliked. 

One  of  the  strangers  in  their  midst  they  soon  figured  to  be  a  spy, 
and  correctly  so,  was  Harvey  Dixon,  who  came  from  Marshall  and 
posed  as  a  wheat  buyer  for  a  Detroit  firm.  Dixon  stupidly  gave 
himself  away  by  paying  too  much  for  his  purchases  and  had  to  leave 
after  a  brief  and  unfruitful  stay  at  the  Centre.  The  morning  he 
left.  Jack  Freeland  sent  him  off  with  a  bitter  tirade. 

There's  that  damned  wheat  buyer— you  didn't  buy  my  wheat  did  you? 
God  damn  you  I  didn't  mean  you  should.  I  thought  you  was  feeding  soft 
soap,  and  I  eat  a  good  deal  of  that  before  I  came  to  this  country.  I  didn't 
speak  to  you  did  I?  I  didn't  mean  to,  for  I  didn't  like  your  looks. 

Even  an  innocent  like  Hiram  Dexter,  who  came  to  the  Centre  to 
build  the  ball  alley  outside  Filley's  tavern,  was  suspected  of  spying 
for  the  railroad  and  was  warned  that  he  had  better  be  careful  and 
not  offend  any  of  the  boys  lest  they  knock  him  over.  And  when  old 
Alonzo  Holmes,  who  boarded  the  track  hands  at  his  house,  of- 
fended Orlando  Williams,  that  hothead  brutally  assaulted  the  help- 
less old  man.  There  had  been  some  talk  of  Holmes  and  his  wife 
being  spies  and  it  was  proposed  to  tar  and  feather  the  couple.  Su- 
spicion had  somewhat  abated,  when,  one  day  in  August,  1850, 
Williams  accused  Holmes  once  more.  Holmes  was  sitting  on  the 
steps  at  Filley's  chatting,  when  Williams  came  up,  pulled  the  old 
man  off  the  steps  and  shouted,  "They  do  say  you  are  a  railroad 
spy."  Holmes  coolly  replied,  "It's  nobody's  business  if  I  am."  Sub- 
sequently, inside  the  tavern,  at  the  bar,  Williams  picked  up  a  bottle 
and  yelled  at  Holmes,  "You  are  a  damned  pusillanimous."  (This 
can  only  be  the  court  reporter's  substitution  for  profanity,  a  la 
Hemingway.)  When  Holmes  replied,  "You  are  a  ditto,"  Williams 
threw  the  bottle  at  his  head  and  broke  the  old  man's  jaw,  knocking 
him  unconscious.  Williams  later  boasted  in  Morrison's  grocery  at 
Jackson  that  he  had  "nearly  laid  out  one  damned  spy  and  wished 
to  God  he  had  killed  him."  He  added  he  would  kill  a  railroad  spy 
quicker  that  he  would  a  "massasauger."  Another  time,  Williams' 
nasty  temper  brought  him  to  blows  with  William  Dobbs,  whom  he 
did  not  like  because  he  had  refused  to  join  the  boys  in  an  attempt 

[37  ] 

to  nail  a  plank  on  the  track.  Even  Fitch  had  afterward  sneeringly 
asked  Dobbs  if  he  were  going  to  engage  with  the  company  the 
next  season.  It  was  at  Warner's  grocery  in  Jackson  that  Williams 
and  Dobbs  got  into  an  argument  over  the  comparative  sizes  of  a 
gold  dollar  and  a  five-cent  piece.  Williams  flared  up  and  dared 
Dobbs  into  the  back  room  to  fight,  calling  him  a  "damned  scoun- 
drel" and  telling  him  he  would  whip  any  man  engaged  with  the 
railroad  company.  This  time,  Williams  himself  was  "whaled 
slightly"  and  may  thereby  have  had  his  suspicions  of  Dobbs  dis- 

One  of  the  spies,  Hiram  Sherman,  was  with  great  cunning  able 
to  parry  the  distrust  of  the  Centreites  and  neatly  turn  the  tables 
on  them,  trapping  two  of  them  in  a  criminal  act.  Sherman  was  a 
longtime  resident  of  Leoni  village  and  was  hired  by  Clark  early 
in  October  at  a  wage  of  I25  a  month.  He  went  to  the  village  to 
work  for  one  of  the  farmers  there  and  was  duly  suspected  of  being 
a  spy.  One  day,  at  Filley's,  he  spoke  of  quitting  his  job  on  the  farm 
and  Bill  Corwin  taunted  him,  "I  suppose  you  think  you  can  make 
more  by  laying  out  at  nights."  Sherman's  chance  to  return  to  grace 
came  not  long  afterward.  He  was  present  at  the  ball  alley  outside 
the  tavern  when  Corwin  got  into  an  argument  with  John  Palmer. 
The  two  began  twitting  each  other  and  finally  had  a  clinch,  with 
Palmer  backing  Corwin  against  the  wall.  Sherman  stepped  in  be- 
tween the  two  and  held  Palmer  off.  After  the  fight  had  been  broken 
up,  Sherman  and  his  new  friend,  Corwin,  went  out  to  an  old  rail- 
road car  standing  on  the  track  nearby  and  made  up  in  a  burst  of 
mutual  confidence.  As  Sherman  later  described  their  conversation: 

I  told  him  I  knew  he  thought  I  was  watching  for  the  railroad,  told  him  I 
was  watching  for  the  road,  but  that  whatever  he  said  to  me,  he  need  not 
fear  me  going  to  the  road  with  it,  that  he  knew  me  well  enough  for  that . . . 
that  I  could  watch  on  his  side  as  well  as  for  Mr.  Clark  and  the  road,  and 
could  tell  him  what  the  company  was  doing  .  .  .  told  him  I  watched  for 
money  and  did  not  care  anything  for  the  road  more  than  to  get  their 
money  .  .  .  told  him  I  would  do  anything  I  could  for  them. 

Corwin  was  completely  won  over  by  this  frank  confession.  He  said 
all  he  wanted  was  that  Sherman  should  let  them  know  what  the 
company  was  doing  and  be  on  their  side  and  didn't  care  how  much 
money  he  got  out  of  the  company.  Sherman  then  cleverly  warned 
Corwin  not  to  give  his  game  away  to  Clark  for  then  he  would  be 


discharged  and  would  not  be  paid  for  what  he  had  already  done. 
Corwin  assured  him  he  would  tell  no  one  but  Fitch. 

Early  that  November,  Sherman's  new  loyalties  were  put  to  the 
test.  As  he  later  told  the  story,  Corwin  approached  him  in  Jackson 
and  asked  him  to  help  steal  some  barrels  of  flour  that  night  from 
the  freight  cars  sidetracked  at  the  Centre.  The  plan  was  to  set  fire 
to  a  pile  of  lumber  as  a  diversion,  and,  while  the  railroad  police 
were  busy  with  the  fire,  steal  the  flour.  Corwin  added  that  if 
Sherman  did  not  join  him,  he  must  keep  still,  but  that  he  and  Eben 
Price  were  going  ahead  with  the  plan  anyway.  Sherman  agreed  to 
join  the  two.  Before  he  returned  to  Michigan  Centre,  however,  he 
revealed  the  plan  to  the  railroad  officials  in  Jackson. 

According  to  Sherman's  account,  the  three  met  that  night  in  the 
tavern  at  the  Centre  and  imbibed  some  liquid  courage.  Filley  asked 
them  if  they  were  going  fishing  and  Corwin  in  reply  merely  asked 
him  if  he  had  an  old  ax  and  then  went  and  got  it.  Price  then  com- 
plained that  he  hadn't  "the  first  damned  thing  to  fight  with"  in 
case  of  trouble  so  Filley  gave  him  a  knife.  As  the  three  left,  Filley 
wished  them  good  luck  and  told  them  if  they  wanted  anything  after 
they  got  back,  there  was  the  bottle.  On  the  way  to  the  lumber  pile, 
Corwin  suggested  turning  the  switch  but  realized  they  had  no  tools 
for  that  task  and  Price  cautioned,  "One  thing  at  a  time;  we  will  burn 
the  wood  tonight."  When  the  little  group  arrived  at  the  woodpile, 
they  reconnoitered  the  area  a  bit.  Price  nervously  suggested,  "If 
any  one  comes  we  will  run  to  the  woods."  Corwin  replied  he  would 
"be  damned  if  he'd  run"  and  told  Price  he'd  better  stick  by  him 
and  fight  it  out.  As  they  set  the  fire,  Sherman  kept  looking  around 
nervously  for  the  police  he  expected  to  be  on  hand.  He  soon  saw 
what  he  was  looking  for— several  men  crawling  along  the  ground 
nearby.  Relieved,  he  rejoined  Price  and  Corwin,  and  a  moment 
later,  the  three  were  arrested  and  taken  to  the  jail  in  Jackson. 

At  long  last,  it  seemed  that  Clark  had  the  best  kind  of  evidence 
against  at  least  two  of  the  road's  enemies  and  would  be  able  to  send 
them  to  jail.  The  grand  jury,  after  some  "higgling,"  brought  an 
indictment  against  the  three.  Corwin  and  Price  pleaded  not  guilty. 
Bail  was  fixed  at  $1,000  each  and  loyal  Ammi  Filley  promptly  gave 
bond  for  his  two  friends.  Sherman,  too,  was  released  on  bail  offered 
by  a  railroad  official.  The  trial  was  set  for  the  March  term  of 


Pending  the  trial,  Sherman  returned  to  the  Centre  but  did  not 
stay  long  for  his  treachery  was  known.  Fitch  pointed  him  out  one 
day  to  a  group  at  the  tavern  and  said,  "There  is  one  of  the  damned 
railroad  spies,  just  such  men  as  they  get  to  watch  the  road  and  bum 
the  company's  wood."  Turning  to  Corwin  and  Price,  Fitch  sardon- 
ically continued: 

Boys,  I  should  think  you  would  remember  Sherman  in  your  prayers,  if 
you  don't  go  to  bed  till  late.  I  should,  if  he  had  been  in  company  with 
me  and  had  turned  traitor.  If  he  had  turned  traitor  to  me,  I  should  like 
to  finger  my  knife  around  his  ribs. 

Sherman  left  soon  after  for  the  safety  of  a  job  in  the  railroad 
warehouse  at  Marshall  at  one  dollar  a  day.  At  the  Centre,  mean- 
while, alibis  were  being  prepared  and  public  opinion  was  being 
educated.  Sherman  was  described  as  a  tool  of  the  railroad  who 
under  orders  had  entrapped  innocent  men  and  instigated  the 
whole  venture;  he  had  gotten  Corwin  so  drunk  that  he  had  had  to 
lead  him  to  the  lumber  pile  and  then  set  fire  to  it  himself.  Corwin 
told  Caleb  Loud,  the  dealer  in  horse  medicine,  that  they  never 
would  bring  him  to  trial  for  burning  the  wood;  if  they  did,  they 
could  not  convict  him,  as  they  had  witnesses  enough  to  swear  him 
clear.  He  asked  Loud  to  use  his  influence  for  him  by  talking  among 
the  farmers  south  of  Jackson  before  the  trial. 

As  the  day  of  the  trial  approached,  Clark  became  convinced  that 
it  had  better  be  postponed.  He  preferred  not  to  "stir  up  the  ire  of 
Michigan  Centre"  just  yet.  He  had  come  to  share  the  belief  of  his 
new  legal  adviser  whom  he  had  hired  in  December,  John  Van 
Arman,  the  astute  criminal  lawyer  from  Marshall,  that  these  men 
could  never  be  convicted  in  Jackson  County.  James  F.  Joy,  the 
company's  chief  counsel,  did  not  share  Clark's  hesitation  and 
wished  to  bring  the  men  to  trial  as  scheduled,  hoping  to  draw  out 
information  in  the  course  of  the  trial  of  the  two  that  could  be 
effectively  used  against  the  rest  of  the  group.  Clark  insisted  that 
nothing  new  could  thus  be  uncovered  that  he  could  not  get  from 
his  secret  agents.  He  did  join  Joy,  nevertheless,  in  a  bold  plan  to 
get  the  case  removed  from  the  jurisdiction  of  the  judge  of  the 
Jackson  County  court.  Legislation  to  effect  this  change  of  venue 
was  necessary,  and  Clark  and  Joy  went  to  work  to  get  it,  the  former 
in  his  new  capacity  as  member  of  the  house  of  representatives  from 
Calhoun  County.  With  the  aid  of  the  state  attorney  general  and  the 


prosecuting  attorney  for  Jackson  County,  they  pushed  through  a 
bill  in  the  1851  session  of  the  legislature  which  provided  for  the 
removal  of  criminal  cases  from  the  county  courts  to  the  circuit 
courts  at  the  option  of  the  prosecuting  attorney  as  well  as  that  of 
the  defendants.^^ 

Despite  this  legislative  victory,  the  case  of  Corwin  and  Price 
never  was  brought  to  trial.  Clark  really  had  bigger  fish  to  fry.  His 
comparative  indifEerence  to  the  case  of  the  two  who  had  set  fire 
to  some  railroad  lumber  was  prompted  by  his  greater  interest  in  a 
bigger  charge  of  arson  which  he  hoped  to  pin  on  the  whole  cabal 
at  Michigan  Centre.  As  he  explained  to  Brooks  in  March,  1851, 
"I  think  these  [two]  fellows  had  better  be  kept  along  and  come  in 
with  the  others,  it  will  be  less  trouble  and  expense  and  in  making 
the  main  thing  more  sure."  ^^ 

The  "main  thing"  referred  to  the  destruction  of  the  freight 
depot  in  Detroit  less  than  two  weeks  after  Corwin  and  Price  were 
arrested.  Early  on  the  morning  of  November  19,  1850,  the  Mich- 
igan Central  freight  house  in  Detroit,  built  less  than  a  year  before, 
burned  to  the  ground  with  all  its  stores  of  flour,  wheat,  and  corn. 
The  loss  to  the  company  was  estimated  at  $40,000  which  was  not 
covered  by  insurance,  and  the  value  of  the  stored  freight  was  more 
than  $100,000.  One  Detroit  newspaper  said  the  next  day  that,  gen- 
erally, the  cause  of  the  fire  remained  a  matter  of  conjecture.  The 
report  added,  however,  that 

the  more  generally  prevalent  opinion  of  those  employed  about  the  build- 
ing-s  seemed  to  be  that  it  took  from  the  friction  of  the  elevators,  which 
theory  is  somewhat  strengthened  by  the  locaHty  at  which  the  fire  burst 
out.  Suggestions  have  been  made  that  the  fire  was  the  work  of  incen- 
diaries, but  that  opinion  is  not  general  nor  is  it  materially  substantiated 
by  the  facts. 

Van  Arman  later  contended  for  the  company  that  this  report  to 
the  press  had  been  deliberately  falsified  and  that  the  depot  hands 
knew  full  well  that  the  fire  was  incendiary  in  origin,  the  contrary 
opinion  having  been  circulated  in  order  to  allay  the  suspicion  of 
the  criminals.  This  stratagem  may  explain,  too,  the  failure  of  Su- 
perintendent Brooks  publicly  to  offer  a  reward  for  the  apprehen- 
sion of  those  who  burned  the  depot.  The  feeling  will  not  down, 
nevertheless,  that  the  fire  may  have  been  an  accident  and  was  con- 
sidered such  by  the  railroad  officials  until  some  months  later  when 

[41  ] 

a  new  recruit  to  the  staff  of  spies  produced  evidence  to  the  con- 

At  any  rate,  Clark's  investigations  for  several  months  after  the 
fire  do  not  seem  to  have  yielded  any  information  on  the  origins  of 
the  holocaust.  Then,  in  January,  1851,  he  was  put  in  touch  with 
Henry  Phelps,  hired  him  as  a  secret  agent  for  the  railroad,  and  in 
the  next  two  months  was  supplied  with  enough  evidence  to  link 
Fitch  and  his  friends  with  the  burning  of  the  depot  in  Detroit. 

Phelps  was  a  man  of  high  intelligence,  clever  to  the  point  of 
cunning,  who  was  reduced  to  living  by  his  wits.  He  had  come  to 
Michigan  from  New  York  in  1836  at  the  age  of  twenty-two  with  his 
family.  He  worked  on  the  family  farm  in  Oakland  County  near 
Detroit  and  then  in  his  brother's  distillery.  He  struck  out  on  his 
own  in  1840  when  he  went  to  Michigan  Centre  and  rented  a  dis- 
tillery. This  venture  failed  after  six  months  when  a  draft  he  had 
offered  to  cover  the  rent  proved  to  be  worthless.  A  second  attempt 
to  go  into  business  nearer  home  also  failed.  He  then  moved  to 
Sharon,  west  of  Ann  Arbor,  took  up  farming,  and  to  supplement 
his  income,  pettifogged  in  the  local  justice  courts.  He  also  dabbled 
in  politics,  served  as  town  clerk,  and  won  a  commission  as  captain 
of  dragoons  in  the  state  militia.  This  budding  career  was  nipped  in 
1844  when  he  was  tried  for  horse-stealing  and  sentenced  to  five 
years  in  the  state  prison  in  Jackson.  Pardoned  in  April,  1849,  six 
months  before  his  term  expired,  he  returned  to  his  farm,  and  after 
a  profitless  year  or  more,  went  to  work  in  December,  1850  as  a  stool 
pigeon  for  the  United  States  District  Attorney  for  Michigan, 
George  C.  Bates.  Phelps'  task,  at  $1.25  per  day  plus  expenses,  was 
to  bring  to  book  the  numerous  counterfeiters  who  plagued  this 
wild  west  of  the  1850's  with  their  bogus  coin.  His  good  working 
knowledge  of  the  law  from  both  sides  of  the  fence,  combined  with 
an  unscrupulous  boldness  in  digging  up  evidence,  soon  won  him 
the  confidence  of  his  employer. 

Not  long  after  he  had  begun  to  work  for  Bates,  Phelps  reported 
that  he  had  established  contact  with  the  leader  of  a  big  counter- 
feiting ring  in  Jackson  County,  Abel  F.  Fitch  of  Michigan  Centre. 
He  further  revealed  that  in  the  course  of  his  association  with  Fitch, 
he  had  learned  of  the  latter's  connection  with  the  burning  of  the 
freight  depot  in  Detroit.  Bates  undoubtedly  relayed  this  infor- 
mation to  the  railroad  officials,  and  Phelps'  promotion  to  Clark's 


corps  of  secret  agents  with  a  salary  of  forty  dollars  a  month  fol- 
lowed almost  immediately. 

In  his  new  capacity,  Phelps  went  to  the  Centre  to  follow  up  the 
lead  he  had  uncovered  as  a  federal  informer.  He  spent  as  much 
time  as  he  could  at  Filley's  tavern  renewing  acquaintances  and 
worming  his  way  into  the  confidence  of  its  patrons.  He  made  a 
special  effort  to  be  with  Fitch  and  talk  to  him,  pretending  that  he 
wished  to  buy  his  prize  twin  oxen,  and  dogging  his  footsteps  at 
Michigan  Centre  as  well  as  in  Lansing  and  Detroit.  In  a  short  time, 
Phelps  was  able  to  report  to  Clark  that  he  knew  who  had  burned 
the  freight  depot.  It  was  an  old  friend  of  his,  George  Washington 
Gay,  of  Detroit,  once  known  as  the  "Whig  Bully  of  City  Hall," 
possessor  of  a  long  police  record,  and  now  the  proprietor  of  a 
brothel  in  the  lower  city.  Gay  had  admitted  to  him,  Phelps,  that 
he  had  set  fire  to  the  depot  and  that  he  had  been  hired  by  Fitch  and 
his  friends  to  do  it.  The  latter  had  also  furnished  Gay  with  the 
"match"  that  ignited  the  building.  This  match  was  an  ingenious 
machine,  a  cylindrical  block  of  wood  with  holes  bored  lengthwise 
and  transversely  and  filled  with  cotton  and  camphene  (a  turpen- 
tine derivative  then  used  as  an  illuminant),  which  would  bum 
slowly  for  several  hours  and  then  flare  up  into  a  blaze.  Gay  had  ad- 
mitted that  he  had  received  the  match  from  someone  at  Michigan 
Centre,  ignited  it  and  secretly  placed  it  in  the  cupola  of  the  freight 
house  about  eight  o'clock  on  the  evening  of  November  18.  The 
match  had  flared  up  about  two  o'clock  the  morning  of  the  nine- 
teenth and  the  resulting  fire  had  destroyed  the  building  and  its 
contents.  For  his  work.  Gay  said  he  had  received  $150,  which  sum 
had  been  made  up  by  Fitch,  Filley,  Corwin,  Williams,  and  others 
at  the  Centre.  The  latter,  according  to  Phelps,  had  also  admitted 
to  him  their  participation  in  the  crime  substantially  as  related  by 
Gay  and  had  even  boasted  of  how  much  each  had  contributed  to 
the  purse  of  arson. 

If  Clark  and  his  legal  adviser.  Van  Arman,  were  amazed  at  these 
revelations,  Phelps  was  prepared  to  prove  them  fully.  He  invited 
his  employers  to  visit  Gay's  brothel  and  see  and  hear  for  them- 
selves. Accordingly,  early  in  April,  1851,  the  two  visited  Gay  several 
times  in  Phelps'  company,  disguising  themselves  in  rough  dress  and 
posing  as  fellow  criminals.  To  win  Gay's  confidence,  they  boasted 
of  their  past  exploits,  flashed  counterfeit  bills,  and  said  diey  were 


interested  in  working  out  a  scheme  to  free  Old  Sile  Doty,  the 
famous  criminal,  who  was  then  serving  a  long  sentence  in  the  Hills- 
dale jail.  In  the  course  of  the  conversation,  Gay  freely  admitted 
that  he  had  burned  the  depot  in  November  and  told  just  how  much 
he  had  been  paid  and  who  had  paid  him.  Gay  also  allowed  his  two 
new  friends  to  see  the  match  he  had  in  an  upstairs  room,  similar 
to  the  one  he  had  used  in  the  old  depot  and  which  he  was  going  to 
use  to  burn  the  new  one  which  had  been  built  on  the  same  site.  He 
assured  them  that  he  could  make  more  money  by  burning  depots 
on  the  railroad  than  any  other  way  and  could  get  $50  more  from 
Fitch  and  his  friends  for  burning  the  new  depot  than  he  had  re- 
ceived for  the  old  one.  After  agreeing  upon  some  future  criminal 
ventures,  Clark  and  Van  Arman  left  with  Phelps,  fully  satisfied 
that  their  agent  was  telling  the  truth  and  had  given  them  the 
means  to  break  up  the  conspiracy  at  the  Centre. 

Phelps  clinched  the  case  against  Fitch  and  company  when  he 
informed  Clark  that  they  planned  to  burn  the  depot  at  Niles  and 
had  asked  him,  Phelps,  to  do  it.  They  had  offered  to  supply  him 
with  a  match  and  pay  him  $200  for  the  job.  When  he  had  balked 
at  the  risks  involved,  they  had  assured  him  that  the  match  had 
worked  perfectly  in  Detroit,  and  that  if  he  were  caught,  they  could 
easily  swear  him  clear.  Phelps  then,  with  the  full  knowledge  of  his 
railroad  superiors,  agreed  after  some  delay  to  carry  out  the  task, 
and  set  the  time.  Clark  arranged  for  another  agent  to  be  at  Filley's 
tavern  on  the  appointed  night  when  Phelps  was  to  be  "fixed  out" 
for  the  trip  to  Niles. 

The  night  of  April  11,  1851,  Phelps  went  to  the  tavern  at  the 
Centre.  He  had  with  him  Heman  Lake,  a  contemporary  inmate 
of  the  state  prison,  whom  he  had  persuaded  Clark  to  hire  as  his 
assistant  and  who  had  fully  corroborated  all  of  his  reports.  After 
some  general  talk.  Bill  Corwin  went  to  a  small  room  in  the  tavern, 
unlocked  it,  and  brought  out  a  box  with  the  match  in  it,  and  then 
carried  it  outside  to  Phelps'  waiting  buggy.  Falkner,  the  railroad 
agent  who  was  present  all  the  time,  and  had  been  told  to  watch 
for  the  delivery  of  a  box  to  Phelps,  confirmed  all  that  the  latter 
reported.  He  had  heard  only  snatches  of  the  conversation  between 
Phelps  and  Fitch  and  the  others,  but  had  seen  Corwin  take  the  box 
out  and  put  it  in  the  buggy. 

Leaving  the  tavern,  Phelps  and  Lake  drove  to  Grass  Lake  where 


they  showed  the  box  and  the  match  to  Clark  and  then  started  off 
for  Niles.  There,  Phelps  placed  the  ignited  match  in  the  depot, 
and  the  railroad  men,  fully  aware  of  the  plot,  hastened  to  extin- 
guish it  before  any  harm  was  done. 

Clark  was  now  ready  to  act.  Phelps  had  proved  to  his  satisfaction 
that  Gay  had  burned  the  Detroit  depot,  that  Fitch  and  others  had 
hired  Gay  to  burn  the  depot,  and  that  he,  Phelps  himself,  had 
been  hired  to  burn  the  Niles  depot  in  a  similar  manner.  Back  in 
February,  Clark  had  reported  to  Brooks  that  "the  burning  of  the 
building  [would]  be  proven  beyond  a  doubt."  He  was  now  more 
than  ever  certain  of  his  ground.  And  when  he  had  seen  Fitch  in 
March  lobbying  in  Lansing,  he  could  not  help  gloating:  "I  think 
[Fitch]  had  better  save  his  strength  as  he  has  a  good  deal  of  labor 
to  do  for  the  state  within  the  next  five  or  ten  years  without  going 
so  far  from  home.  If  this  does  not  prove  so  I  am  no  prophet."  Once 
the  Niles  trap  had  been  sprung  and  all  the  accumulated  evidence 
carefully  prepared,  Clark  was  ready  to  move  and  make  the  arrests.^^ 

[45  ] 



JDY  APRIL  19,  1851,  four  months  to  the  day  after  the  depot  fire, 
all  the  arrangements  for  the  roundup  of  the  railroad's  enemies  were 
completed.  A  warrant  was  issued  on  the  complaint  of  Phelps  for 
the  arrest  of  forty-four  men,  charging  them  with  the  burning  of  the 
depot  as  part  of  a  general  conspiracy  to  destroy  the  property  of 
the  Michigan  Central  Railroad  and  with  a  number  of  other  crimes. 
The  list  of  accused  included  Fitch,  Burnett,  Filley,  and  almost 
two  score  of  their  friends,  anybody  in  Michigan  Centre  or  Jackson, 
apparently,  who  had  ever  expressed  any  hostility  to  the  railroad. 
Also  named  in  the  warrant  were  George  W.  Gay  and  his  Detroit 
accomplice,  Erastus  Smith,  as  well  as  a  number  of  known  counter- 
feiters whose  inclusion  lent  substance  to  the  allegations  of  general 
villainy.  On  the  afternoon  of  April  19,  one  special  train  started 
from  Niles  for  Jackson  with  the  sheriff  of  Berrien  County  and  his 
deputies  aboard,  while  another  left  from  Detroit  and  headed  west- 
ward carrying  the  sheriff  of  Wayne  County  and  about  a  hundred 
deputized  railroad  hands.  As  the  trains  passed  through  the  dis- 
affected areas  a  little  after  midnight,  squads  of  three  or  four  officers 
were  dispatched  at  intervals,  each  to  get  its  man.  The  two  trains 
met  near  Jackson  and  waited  for  the  haul.  The  Wayne  County 
sheriff  accompanied  by  Clark  and  Van  Arman  brought  in  the  prize 
prisoner.  Fitch  himself.  In  three  hours  more  than  thirty  others 
were  routed  out  of  bed  and  brought  aboard.  Day  had  already 
broken  when  the  trains  started  on  the  slow  journey  back  to  Detroit 
with  the  triumphant  posse  and  its  bewildered  prey.^^ 

Late  Saturday  afternoon,  the  prisoners  were  marched  from  the 
cars  through  the  city  streets  to  the  jail  in  a  long  column  of  twos, 
each  man  guarded  by  a  deputy.  Fitch,  at  the  head  of  the  column, 
was  struck  by  the  wry  humor  of  the  scene. 

I  being  a  captain  [in  the  militia]  they  placed  me  in  front,  of  course, 
and  we  made  quite  an  imposing  appearance  giving  the  Detroit  folks  a 
good  opportunity  to  take  a  fair  view  of  us.  It  looks  like  a  Connecticut 
general  training  and  must  have  been  great  satisfaction  to  the  RR  folks. 

In  jail,  the  small  mob  joined  Gay  and  Smith,  who  had  been  ar- 


rested  in  the  city  that  morning.  Burnett,  who  had  not  been  at  home 
when  the  posse  called,  hearing  that  there  was  a  warrant  out  for 
his  arrest,  took  a  train  to  Detroit  and  gave  himself  up  to  join  his 
friends  in  jail.  In  the  course  of  the  next  week,  additional  prisoners 
were  brought  in  from  Jackson,  Niles,  and  elsewhere.^*^ 

The  law  began  to  move  with  illegal  haste.  None  of  the  prisoners 
was  brought  for  examination  before  the  police  justice  who  had 
issued  the  warrant,  as  required  by  law.  After  they  were  in  jail,  the 
grand  jury  was  hurriedly  convened,  without  the  required  six  days 
notice,  and  returned  five  joint  bills  of  indictment  against  the  ac- 
cused. The  first  indictment,  under  which  they  were  later  tried, 
charged  them  all  with  burning  the  depot  and  specified  that  Gay 
had  actually  set  the  fire  and  had  been  hired  by  the  others  to  com- 
mit the  crime.  The  railroad's  officials,  at  the  same  time,  brought 
civil  suit  against  the  prisoners  for  $150,000  damages  and  had  them 
held  in  $50,000  bail  each.  In  time,  they  were  also  indicted  in 
Berrien  and  Calhoun  counties  for  conspiring  to  burn  the  depots 
in  Niles  and  Marshall,  and  finally,  by  a  Federal  grand  jury  for 
counterfeiting  and  for  burning  the  United  States  mails.^^ 

Staggering  under  this  massed  legal  assault,  the  prisoners  were 
arraigned  before  Judge  Benjamin  F.  H.  Witherell  in  Wayne 
County  Court  on  April  29.  They  pleaded  not  guilty  to  all  the  in- 
dictments. The  prosecution  announced  that  it  was  ready  to  go  to 
trial  on  the  first  indictment  and  wished  to  do  so  quickly.  Counsel 
for  the  defense,  after  vain  attempts  to  have  the  indictments  quashed 
and  a  mistrial  called  on  technical  grounds,  held  out  for  a  month's 
delay.  When  the  court  refused  to  grant  this  motion,  the  defendants 
took  advantage  of  their  legal  option  and  elected  to  be  tried  in  the 
circuit  court,  which  would  not  sit  for  two  weeks.^2 

Primarily,  the  defendants  desperately  sought  delay  to  slow  down 
the  judicial  mills  which  were  surely  grinding  them  to  their  doom 
in  jail.  Their  counsel,  neither  able  nor  distinguished,  needed  time 
to  prepare  the  case,  seek  out  witnesses,  study  the  evidence,  and 
work  out  the  defense.  Representing  the  accused  in  court  that  day 
were  Nehemiah  H.  Joy  of  Jackson,  and  Henry  Frink,  but  lately 
removed  to  Chicago  from  Jackson,  two  village  lawyers  who  had 
come  forward  to  help  their  friends  in  need.  They  were  aided  by 
Henry  H.  Wells  and  William  A.  Cook,  two  Detroit  lawyers  of  no 
great  reputation  at  the  bar.  Another  obscure  Detroit  lawyer,  L.  H. 


Hewitt,  appeared  for  Gay  and  Smith.  Opposing  them  was  a  battery 
of  the  city's  legal  lights  who  had  been  retained  by  the  Michigan 
Central  to  assist  David  Stuart,  the  county  prosecuting  attorney. 
On  behalf  of  the  people,  Stuart  was  joined  by  James  F.  Joy  and 
John  Van  Arman  and  such  outstanding  members  of  the  Detroit 
bar  as  James  A.  Van  Dyke,  Jacob  M.  Howard,  Alexander  D.  Frazer, 
Daniel  Goodwin,  and  William  Gray.  Other  law)'ers  of  reputation 
were,  moreover,  interdicted  by  the  hostility  of  public  opinion  from 
taking  the  case  of  the  "conspirators";  only  one  of  them,  William 
A.  Howard,  showed  his  independence  and  volunteered  his  services 
to  the  defendants,  justifying  his  action  by  explaining  that  "there 
was  more  real  danger  to  the  community  from  allowing  a  heartless 
monied  corporation  to  crush  at  their  will  any  number  of  men  in 
the  manner  pursued  than  by  any  depredations  of  the  prisoners." 
For  his  act,  Howard  was  charged  with  treason  to  law  and  order  and 
the  welfare  of  the  people  among  whom  he  lived.  His  gesture  was 
more  spirited  than  effective,  for  he  was  noted  as  a  good  business 
counsellor  rather  than  as  a  trial  lawyer.^^ 

The  case  was  called  up  for  trial  on  May  14  before  Judge  Warner 
Wing  in  the  Wayne  County  Circuit  Court.  The  defense  continued 
to  spar  desperately  for  time,  fearful  of  the  massed  power  of  the 
state  and  its  wealthiest  corporation.  Fitch,  undoubtedly  the  main- 
spring of  defense  strategy,  vowed  he  would  not  be  forced  to  trial 
until  he  was  fully  prepared.  First,  his  lawyers  filed  a  motion  for 
separate  trials  for  him  and  four  other  defendants,  a  stratagem  of 
delay  and  obstruction.  Then,  on  behalf  of  Fitch  alone,  a  motion 
was  made  for  a  change  of  venue  to  a  neighboring  county  on  the 
ground  that  the  public  had  been  so  prejudiced  against  the  defend- 
ants that  a  fair  trial  in  Detroit  was  impossible.  In  support,  counsel 
submitted  affidavits  containing  extracts  from  the  three  Detroit 
daily  newspapers.  Judge  Wing  denied  this  motion  on  the  technical 
giound  that  if  Fitch  were  tried  in  another  county  under  this  indict- 
ment, the  rest  of  the  defendants  could  never  be  tried,  as  there  was 
no  provision  for  the  return  of  the  indictment  to  Wayne  County. 
The  next  day,  the  defense  filed  a  new  motion  for  a  continuance  to 
the  November  term  of  court  so  that  three  absent  witnesses  could 
be  procured.  When  the  prosecution  showed  that  this  request  was 
unreasonable  and  factitious,  the  judge  denied  it,  but  relented 
enough  to  grant  an  adjournment  until  May  28.^^ 

[51  ] 


Meanwhile,  the  case  was  being  tried  in  the  court  of  public  opin- 
ion, to  the  great  detriment  of  the  accused.  From  the  moment  of 
the  triumphal  procession  through  the  streets  and  the  first  press  re- 
ports of  the  mass  arrests,  great  excitement  gripped  the  city.  One  of 
Fitch's  close  friends  barely  escaped  a  drubbing  in  a  public  bar 
when  he  defended  the  prisoners  against  vicious  abuse.  The  news- 
papers played  on  the  fears  of  the  people.  They  accepted  the  charges 
as  true  and  proven  and  added  a  few  of  their  own.  In  reporting  the 
arrests,  they  alluded  to  the  "gang  of  desperadoes"  and  hinted 
darkly  at  the  existence  of  a  diabolical  criminal  organization  op- 
erating in  several  states  and  possessed  of  an  infernal  machine  for 
blowing  up  trains.  The  Advertiser  added  blackmail  to  the  official 
charges  and  referred  to  Jackson  County  as  the  home  of  drunks, 
counterfeiters,  and  other  criminals.  The  Free  Press  maintained  a 
correct  attitude  for  more  than  a  month,  but  then  attacked  the  de- 
fendants as  an  "organized  band  of  desperadoes— congregated 
around  a  drunken  rum-hole  in  Jackson  County."  When  the  in- 
dictments were  issued,  the  Tribune  called  for  suspended  judgment 
and  went  on  to  print  a  story,  probably  supplied  by  one  of  the  rail- 
road's spies,  of  a  secret  meeting  of  the  "gang  of  ruffians"  to  auction 
off  Wescott's  life  to  the  highest  bidder— all  of  which  proved  "the 
depths  to  which  [the  accused]  were  ready  to  sink  themselves  in 
crime  and  depravity."  Assuring  its  readers  that  the  prisoners  could 
expect  full  justice  in  Wayne  County  and  that  it  would  not  even 
publish  the  indictment  lest  it  create  prejudice,  the  Daily  Tribune 
pilloried  the  defendants  as  "a  lawless  gang  of  monsters  in  human 
shape"  and  called  on  Mayor  Zachariah  Chandler  to  provide  the 
city  with  additional  police  protection  against  the  dangers  threat- 
ened by  those  of  the  criminals  still  at  large.  It  gave  prominence  to 
reports  of  fires  in  different  parts  of  the  city  and  cautioned  the  police 
to  be  on  the  alert  against  the  incendiaries.  Finally,  it  revealed  for 
the  benefit  of  the  public,  which  it  counseled  to  withhold  judg- 
ment, that  the  accused  had  a  long  history  of  criminal  activity  and 
that  Fitch  in  particular  had  long  meditated  lawless  vengeance 
against  the  railroad."^ 

Other  newspapers  in  the  state  and  elsewhere,  took  up  the  hue 
and  cry  and  descanted  with  horror  on  what  they  regarded  "as 
evidence  of  the  universal  demoralization  in  Michigan;  and  de- 
manded immediate  punishment  of  the  accused"  as  well  as  the 

[52  ] 

restoration  of  capital  punishment  in  the  state.  The  press  alarm 
moved  one  terror-stricken  Presbyterian  clergyman  in  New  York 
City  to  claim  that  he  and  other  passengers  had  had  their  drinking 
water  poisoned  while  traveling  through  the  state  on  the  Michigan 
Central  Railroad.^^ 

Fitch  protested  this  campaign  of  calumny  to  one  of  the  Free  Press 
reporters  who  visited  him  in  jail  but  apparently  to  no  effect.  "Such 
false  and  wicked  statements,"  he  wrote  his  wife,  "as  was  published 
in  the  newspapers  is  enough  to  craze  anyone."  Burnett  struck  back 
in  a  long  letter  to  the  Ypsilanti  Sentinel,  which  the  editor  printed 
with  the  explanation  that  "as  a  portion  of  the  press  has  been  very 
free,  to  say  the  least,  in  pronouncing  judgment  in  the  case,"  com- 
mon justice  dictated  that  the  other  side  be  given  a  hearing.  Writing 
from  jail,  Burnett  gave  his  story  of  the  highhanded  proceedings 
and  protested  against  the  "unwarrantable  statements  [that]  have 
been  made  .  .  .  concerning  us,  contrary  to  the  just  rights  of  free- 
men." The  Jackson  American  Citizen  reprinted  Burnett's  letter 
and  editorially  commented  on  the  extravagant  tone  of  the  Detroit 
and  eastern  neAvspapers,  whose  published  disclosures  it  felt,  "have 
proved  too  much  for  the  gullibility  of  any  acquainted  with  the 
matter."  ^^ 

In  time,  the  excitement  died  down  as  the  press  showed  proper 
restraint  in  reporting  the  trial.  But  irreparable  harm  had  been 
done  the  cause  of  the  defendants.  They  had  been  branded  as 
criminals  who  had  wished  to  destroy  "our  young  and  beauteous 
city"  and  the  presumption  of  their  guilt  had  been  fixed  in  the 
minds  of  the  citizens.  The  effects  of  the  public  hysteria  had  been 
compounded  when  the  city  fathers,  responding  to  the  fearful  agita- 
tion, had  called  out  a  large  night  watch  to  protect  the  city  from 
destruction  by  fire  and  assigned  additional  guards  to  each  business 
block.  Echoes  of  the  civic  "great  fear"  had  resounded  in  Federal 
Judge  Ross  Wilkins'  charge  to  the  grand  jury  of  the  United  States 
District  Court:  the  judge,  in  presenting  the  case  against  the  alleged 
counterfeiters  including  Fitch,  Filley,  and  six  of  their  friends, 
pointedly  referred  to  that  "malignant  spirit"  and  "depravity  of 
heart"  of  these  enemies  of  society.  The  officials  of  the  Michigan 
Central,  taking  advantage  of  the  excitement  and  adding  to  it  in 
their  own  way,  put  a  twenty-four  hour  guard  in  and  around  the 
county  jail  at  their  own  expense.  Fitch  thought  they  did  this  merely 


"to  make  a  great  display."  This  action  seemed  to  him,  besides,  a 
vicious  and  unfair  form  of  harassment.  He  protested. 

And  now  how  in  the  name  of  common  sense  can  we  ever  prepare  for 

trial  that  is  a  fair  and  impartial  one  when  all  such  we  say  or  do  is  carried 
to  our  enimies  and  they  allowed  to  use  it  as  they  please,  besides  it  seems 
to  me  an  unheard  of  procedure  that  a  party  complainant  should  have 
persons  arrested  at  their  instigation  and  then  treat  them  in  such  an  in- 
solent manner  as  they  do  us.™ 

When  court  convened  again  on  May  28,  William  A.  Howard 
announced  that  he  had  been  east  and  had  retained  Senator 
William  H.  Seward  of  New  York  for  the  defense.  He  himself  and 
Cook,  Howard  explained,  had  been  ill  and  unable  to  take  hold  of 
the  case  properly.  Howard  did  not,  however,  touch  on  the  decisive 
reason  for  procuring  more  eminent  counsel.  Undoubtedly,  it  was 
Fitch's  determination  to  get  the  very  best  lawyers  to  defend  himself 
and  his  friends  and  oppose  the  legal  array  of  the  prosecution.  He 
had  been  depressed  by  the  way  things  had  been  going  for  the 
defendants,  reviled  everywhere,  stymied  in  court  again  and  again, 
and  confined  in  jail  without  bail.  And  while  he  believed  Frink  and 
the  others  were  doing  the  best  they  could,  he  strongly  felt,  as  he 
wrote  his  wife,  that  'Sve  have  a  hard  enimy  to  fight"  and  need  "to 
get  good  counsel."  It  was  not  strange  that  in  his  plight  he  should 
turn  to  Seward  for  succor.  The  senator  had  but  recently  uttered 
his  "higher  law"  sentiments  and  become  the  idol  of  the  antislavery 
people  everywhere.  The  repute  of  his  efforts  as  a  criminal  lawyer 
on  behalf  of  the  lowly  could  not  have  been  lost  on  the  astute  Fitch, 
Seward,  appealed  to  in  the  name  of  the  common  man  against  a 
powerful  corporation  which  had  bought  up  the  best  legal  talent  in 
the  state,  and  offered  on  Fitch's  behalf  a  fee  of  $2,000,  agreed  to 
come  west  and  take  the  case.  Attempts  by  influential  eastern  friends 
of  the  railroad  to  dissuade  him  failed,  for  he  believed  that  as  an 
American  lawyer,  he  had  to  assist  those  who  most  needed  assistance. 
When  word  came  to  Fitch  that  Sew^ard  had  agreed  to  come  to 
Detroit  and  take  the  case,  his  spirits  rose  greatly.  He  assured  his 
wife,  and  himself,  "He  is  a  big  gun  no  mistake."  ^^ 

Unfortunately,  Sew^ard  could  not  arrange  his  affairs  to  arrive  in 
Detroit  until  June  5.  Would  the  court,  pleaded  Howard,  postpone 
the  case  until  then,  particularly  since  the  defendants  now  withdrew 
their  requests  for  separate  trials.  Judge  Wing  refused  to  grant  the 


postponement  without  good  legal  reason.  Opposing  counsel,  how- 
ever, finally  did  agree  to  a  compromise,  whereby  the  defendants 
would  be  tried  jointly,  a  jury  would  be  empaneled,  two  or  three 
witnesses  examined  on  a  specific  point,  and  then  the  case  allowed 
to  rest  until  Seward's  arrival. 

The  trial  got  under  way  the  next  day,  May  29.  The  number  of 
defendants  had  been  reduced  to  thirty-seven;  some  had  been  dis- 
charged for  lack  of  evidence,  some  not  arrested  for  the  same  reason, 
and  one  had  died  in  jail.  The  deceased  was  none  other  than  Gay, 
who  was  charged  with  burning  the  depot  at  the  behest  of  the 
others.  He  had  died  on  May  8  of  what  Fitch  described  as  a  "loath- 
some and  disgusting"  disease.  When  the  ofl&cials  accused  one  of  the 
prisoners,  who  was  a  doctor  by  profession,  of  poisoning  Gay,  a 
charge  soon  dispelled  by  a  post-mortem.  Fitch  winced  as  though 

First,  a  jury  was  chosen  in  short  order.  The  twelve  men,  selected 
from  a  panel  of  names  taken  from  the  tax  assessment  rolls  of  the 
city,  were  representative  of  the  substantial  and  respectable  portion 
of  the  community.  They  included  such  outstanding  political  and 
business  figures  as  Levi  Cook,  Horace  Hallock,  Alexander  C.  Mc- 
Graw,  Buckminster  Wight,  and  Silas  A.  Bagg.  The  others  on  the 
jury  were  relatively  unknown,  but  most  had  served  as  minor  mu- 
nicipal functionaries.  Fitch  thought  it  was  a  "good  jury"  and  did 
not  consider  the  possibility  that  it  might  be  swayed  by  the  civic 
interests  so  closely  bound  up  with  those  of  the  city's  great  com- 
mercial outlet,  the  Michigan  Central  Railroad.^i 

Van  Arman  then  opened  the  case  for  the  prosecution.  He  said 
the  state  would  prove  that  Gay  had  burned  the  depot  and  that  the 
defendants  had  paid  him  $150  to  do  it  and  furnished  the  "match." 
Henry  Phelps  was  the  first  witness  called  and  told  how  Gay  had 
confessed  his  crime  to  him  and  incriminated  the  men  from  Mich- 
igan Centre.  Darius  Clark  and  Van  Arman  then  took  the  stand  in 
turn  and  told  of  their  visits  to  Gay's  house,  where  the  latter  had 
repeated  his  confessions,  thus  substantiating  Phelps'  testimony  in 
this  respect.  After  hearing  these  witnesses,  the  court  adjourned,  as 
agreed,  for  one  week  until  June  5. 

All  this  while,  the  defendants  were  languishing  in  the  crowded 
Wayne  County  jail,  spied  on  by  the  railroad  guards,  prevented 
from  taking  any  effective  action  in  their  own  defense,  fearful  and 


hopeful  by  turns  of  the  outcome.  Fitch,  in  particular,  was  subject 
to  these  emotional  fluctuations,  as  may  be  clearly  seen  in  a  series 
of  letters  he  wrote  his  wife,  Amanda,  from  jail.  His  first  reaction 
to  arrest  and  imprisonment  was  one  of  incredulity  and  indignation 
buoyed  by  hope.  The  day  after  his  arrival  in  jail,  he  wrote,  almost 
lightly,  "This  is  the  first  time  I  ever  addressed  you  from  such  a 
place  and  I  hope  to  God  it  will  be  the  last."  The  next  day,  he  was 
somewhat  chagrined  at  having  to  write  from  the  same  place,  but 
repeatedly  asserted  his  innocence  and  assured  his  wife:  "We  know 
that  the  truth  is  mighty  and  believe  will  prevale,  RR  influence 
and  money  to  the  contrary  notwithstanding  .  .  .  We  shall  all  of  us 
be  delivered  in  due  time  unharmed  from  the  hands  of  our  enimies, 
false  swearing  bribery  and  corruption  to  the  contrary  notwith- 
standing." He  and  his  fellow  prisoners  felt  "injured  and  abused, 
insulted  and  wronged"  but  were  quite  sure  that  all  would  end  well. 
"I  feel  to  (sic)  indignant  to  feel  meloncholly,"  he  concluded  his 
second  letter  from  jail,  "I  shall  be  home  before  long."  All  the  same, 
he  was  bewildered  by  the  vindictiveness  of  the  railroad  officials, 
though  he  was  inclined  to  think  that  they  were  deceived  by 
Phelps,  Wescott,  and  the  other  spies,  "who  gather  round  them  for 
the  purpose  of  getting  their  money  and  they  care  not  how."  He 
vented  his  spleen  against  these  spies,  accusing  them  of  concocting 
a  monstrous  plot.  "When  they  found  they  could  not  draw  me  by 
any  pretext  what  ever  in  to  any  of  their  scheems,"  he  explained, 
"they  finally  pitched  upon  this  depot  scheem  made  by  themselves 
so  far  as  I  am  concerned  out  of  whole  clothe  and  now  seek  to  con- 
vict me  and  others."  But,  he  was  sure,  they  "will  be  worse  con- 
founded than  those  who  undertook  to  build  the  tower  of  babel," 
and  called  "Divine  vengeance"  down  upon  them.^^ 

After  two  weeks  of  uninterrupted  confinement,  of  writhing  un- 
der the  lash  of  public  condemnation,  the  note  of  defiant  hope  be- 
gan to  fade.  Fitch  now  found  his  quarters  "very  uncomfortable" 
and  began  to  worry  about  his  health  and  what  would  happen  to 
him  if  he  came  down  with  his  old  stomach  ailment.  He  was  soon 
writing,  "It  does  not  seem  as  though  I  could  stand  it  here  much 
longer."  Gloomily  expecting  the  worst,  he  told  Amanda  that  he 
would  send  for  her  if  he  had  an  attack,  as  he  did  not  think  he  could 
live  through  one  without  her  "kind  attention."  He  had  been  so 
much  troubled  with  "Dispepshi,"  he  was  afraid  he  could  not  sur- 


vive  long  with  the  best  of  care,  and  after  a  month  in  jail,  concluded 
hopelessly  that  "no  man  can  long  enjoy  health  in  this  uncomfi table 
place."  ^3 

Gloom  deepened  into  despair  as  he  felt  the  full  force  of  legal 
pressure  and  hatred.  Only  occasional  flashes  of  desperate  hope  lit- 
up  the  murk  of  his  cell  and  then  were  followed  by  a  sense  of 
martyrdom.  On  May  ii,  he  reflected  sadly,  "I  have  always  been 
taught  that  money  is  power  but  I  never  felt  it  so  sensibly  as  I  do 
now."  Three  days  later,  he  cried  out  to  Amanda, 

I  am  still  in  jail  and  how  long  I  am  to  be  kept  here  I  know  not,  but  if 
nothing  but  the  pound  of  flesh  nearest  my  heart  will  satisfy  my  enimies 
and  they  seem  to  be  determined  not  to  be  satisfied  with  anything  less, 
I  dont  know  but  with  their  power  and  influence  they  will  compell  me 
to  yeald  it  to  them  ...  I  fear  that  many  of  us  will  be  obliged  to  sacrifice 
our  lives  to  appease  the  wrath  of  this  soulless  corporation. 

In  another  two  weeks.  Fitch  was  prepared  for  martyrdom.  He  could 
not  understand  how  innocence  could  be  so  wronged,  but  "if  they 
can  with  all  their  cunning  devise  such  damnable  scheems  and  carry 
them  through  and  convict  us,  why  it  is  time  that  their  power  was 
known  and  guarded  against,  for  no  mans  liberty  is  safe."  And  then, 
in  a  sentimental  vision,  he  returned  to  his  dear  Amanda,  his  com- 
panion of  twenty  years. 

This  is  a  fine  May  morning  and  although  my  boddy  is  surrounded  by 
bars  and  bolts  yet  my  spirit,  thank  God,  is  left  free  to  roam  and  hold 
sweet  communion  with  those  I  hold  near  and  dear  here  on  earth,  and 
were  I  permitted  to  be  with  you  and  sis  in  person  as  heretofore  to  take 
strawberry  walks  and  roam  over  fields  and  landscape,  as  we  were  wont 
to  do  at  this  delightful  season,  what  untold  pleasures  might  we  not  injoy. 
But  this  may  be  ordered  for  some  wise  purpose,  for  God  in  his  providence 
does  all  things  well,  we  should  not  know  how  to  appreciate  and  injoy 
happiness  did  we  not  occasionally  taste  of  misery.** 

Above  all.  Fitch  fumed  because  he  and  his  friends  could  not  get 
free  on  bail.  Efforts  to  do  so  ran  up  against  the  negligence  of  court 
officials  and  the  huge  sums  set  at  the  behest  of  railroad  counsel. 
The  good  citizens  of  Detroit  and  perhaps  even  the  railroad  officials 
really  feared  to  let  the  criminals  described  by  their  newspapers 
loose  in  their  midst.  Fitch  raged  helplessly  as  week  passed  week  in 
crippling  confinement.  He  wanted  to  go  home  and  organize  his 
defense.  He  knew  he  could  raise  any  reasonable  amount  of  bail. 
Indignant  and  bewildered,  he  could  not  understand  why  the  rail- 

[57  ] 

road  showed  such  a  "fiendish  disposition"  toward  him  and  accused 
the  authorities  of  lacking  one  spark  of  humanity  and  trampHng 
"on  all  laws,  constitutions  and  justice."  He  was  soon  convinced 
that  they  fully  intended  to  keep  him  from  preparing  adequately 
for  the  trial,  "that  our  enimies  would  be  glad  to  keep  us  here  untill 
our  enigies  were  all  impaired  or  weakened  so  that  we  would  fall 
an  easy  prey."  Finally,  as  June  5  and  Seward's  arrival  neared,  and 
Judge  Wing  announced  he  would  set  bail  for  the  criminal  pro- 
ceedings. Fitch  took  heart.  He  asked  Amanda  to  tell  his  friends  to 
come  to  Detroit  to  stand  bail  for  him.  He  explained  somewhat 
optimistically  that  "they  feel  ashamed  to  think  that  they  have  acted 
so  heretofore"  and  openly  expressed  his  fears,  now  happily  dis- 
sipated, that  if  he  had  had  to  be  in  court  days  and  in  jail  nights, 
it  would  have  killed  him.  He  was  sure  his  bail  would  not  be  set 
very  high  because  public  opinion  had  changed  in  his  favor.  He 
noted  that  King  Strang's  Mormons  had  been  arrested  for  treason 
and  that  their  bail  had  been  set  at  only  $2,000  each.  His  own  bail 
would,  of  course,  be  higher,  "so  you  see  that  treason  against  the 
RR  is  a  much  greater  crime  than  treason  against  the  government." 
But,  he  was  certain,  "the  day  of  retributive  justice  is  at  hand.  This 
company  will  yet  learn  that  they  cannot  trample  upon  the  dearest 
rights  of  Freemen  without  bringing  down  on  their  heads  retribu- 
tive justice."  ^^ 

Fitch  was  wrong.  On  the  resumption  of  the  trial  on  June  5, 
with  Seward  leading  the  defense,  he  soon  found  out  how  wrong 
he  was.  Without  delay,  Frink  requested  that  bail  be  set  for  Fitch 
and  Burnett.  Prosecuting  Attorney  Stuart  demanded  that  the 
amount  of  bail  be  fixed  at  $15,000  for  the  indictment  being  tried 
and  half  as  much  in  each  of  the  four  other  indictments,  a  total  of 
$45,000  for  each  defendant.  Frink's  objections  that  these  amounts 
were  excessive  were  brushed  aside.  The  presecution  dwelt  on  the 
enormity  of  the  offenses  charged  and  threw  up  to  the  defendants 
their  boasts  that  they  could  give  bail  in  the  sum  of  $100,000,  if 
necessary.  Here,  Seward,  speaking  for  the  first  time,  said  that  al- 
though he  knew  little  of  the  merits  of  the  case,  he  considered  the 
amounts  requested  excessive,  and  vehemently  declared  that  if  he 
were  the  defendants,  "he  would  rot  in  jail  .  .  .  before  he  would 
submit  to  such  persecution  and  oppression."  Counsel  for  the  state 
then  explained  with  amazing  frankness  that  bail  was  deliberately 


set  high  to  prevent  the  prisoners  from  being  bailed  at  all,  for  if 
one  of  them  absconded,  the  whole  trial  would  be  halted  and  all 
proceedings  would  be  voided.  The  railroad  officials,  it  seems,  had 
at  last  got  their  hands  on  their  enemies  and  were  not  going  to  re- 
lease them  even  for  a  moment  on  a  legal  nicety  until  they  had  all 
been  duly  disposed  of.  As  Stuart  declared,  "There  were  insuperable 
objections  to  allowing  bail"  at  all,  for  the  prisoners  were  liable 
to  be  arrested  under  the  other  indictments  and  taken  to  another 
county  to  be  tried.  Seward  in  turn  insisted  on  the  constitutional 
rights  of  his  clients:  "This  was  a  court  of  justice  and  .  .  .  these  de- 
fendants were  prisoners  at  the  bar  and  .  .  .  the  constitution  of  the 
country  was  not  a  fiction  ..."  The  prisoners  were  entitled  to  rea- 
sonable bail  and  $45,000  for  each  of  thirty-seven  defendants,  or  a 
total  of  nearly  two  million  dollars,  was  plainly  exorbitant.  After 
further  argument,  during  which  Seward  called  the  attention  of  the 
court  to  the  higher  law,  "a  proper  sense  of  its  obligations  to  God 
and  humanity,  and  love  of  liberty  for  the  oppressed  under  all  cir- 
cumstances," Judge  Wing  announced  his  compromise  figure— 
$20,000  for  Fitch  and  $10,000  for  Burnett.  The  sureties  for  each, 
friends  and  neighbors  from  Jackson  County,  then  stepped  forward 
and  answered  as  to  their  ability  to  stand  bail. 

The  prisoners  were  not  however  to  be  released.  Stuart  reminded 
the  court  that  they  were  also  being  held  in  $50,000  bail  in  the  civil 
suit  of  the  company  against  them  for  damages.  The  defense  tried 
to  have  the  capias  by  which  they  were  held  in  the  civil  suit  quashed 
in  open  court,  but  to  no  avail.  And  except  for  brief  interludes  for 
selected  defendants,  the  prisoners  were  to  remain  in  jail  during  the 
whole  length  of  the  trial,  "held  fast,"  as  Seward  later  put  it,  "as 
in  a  cage  of  iron."  ^e 

With  the  matter  of  bail  disposed  of,  the  trial  really  got  under 
way.  For  three  months,  through  the  blazing  heat  of  a  midwest  sum- 
mer, the  court  heard  the  testimony  of  nearly  five  hundred  wit- 
nesses. Judge  Wing's  minutes  of  the  evidence  covered  five  hundred 
ten  closely  written  pages  of  legal  foolscap  and  the  printed  report 
of  the  testimony  fills  more  than  five  hundred  fifty  octavo  pages  in 
small  type.  It  had  been  expected  that  the  trial  would  be  over  in  a 
few  days,  but  by  the  end  of  June,  all  were  resigned  to  a  long-drawn 
battle.  When  one  of  the  witnesses  was  asked  if  he  knew  when  the 
case  had  begun.  Judge  Wing  sardonically  interjected,  "Can  you 


tell  when  it  will  end?"  and  laughter  greeted  the  sally.  By  the  mid- 
dle of  July,  there  were  demands  for  longer  sessions.  The  prosecu- 
tion suggested  evening  sessions  and  the  jury  asked  that  proceedings 
begin  an  hour  earlier  in  the  morning.  The  judge  did  nothing,  but 
declared  the  matter  was  a  serious  one  and  impressed  counsel  with 
the  necessity  "of  urging  this  trial  through  to  an  ending." 

It  was  not  until  September  2  that  the  parade  of  witnesses  came 
to  a  halt.  Each  side  had  taken  more  than  a  month  to  present  its 
case,  and  the  prosecution  then  had  called  additional  witnesses  in 
rebuttal.  Of  the  elapsed  time,  however,  only  some  forty-seven  days 
had  been  used  in  the  actual  taking  of  testimony.  At  least  one  month 
had  been  wasted  when  one  or  another  of  the  defendants  and 
jurors  was  stricken  by  disease  in  that  stifling  summer  heat  and 
could  not  make  an  appearance  in  court.  At  first,  opposing  counsel 
had  agreed  to  let  the  proceedings  continue  without  prejudice  to 
either  side.  But  by  the  end  of  July,  the  defense  lawyers,  stung  by 
repeated  adverse  decisions  of  the  court,  stubbornly  refused  to  enter 
into  any  further  stipulations  to  waive  their  clients'  rights.  Court 
had  therefore  to  adjourn  from  day  to  day  until  the  absent  defend- 
ant or  juror  was  able  to  return.  Almost  two  weeks  were  thus  lost 
at  the  end  of  July  when  two  of  the  prisoners  came  down  with 
diarrhea,  and  two  more  in  August  when  two  others  succumbed  to 
the  heat  and  filth  of  the  crowded  jail  and  died  of  dysentery.  The 
long  delays  wearied  the  survivors  and  frayed  the  professional  court- 
room courtesy  of  the  lawyers,  who  began  snapping  at  each  other 
in  their  heated  legal  wrangles.  Not  until  September  4  did  counsel 
begin  their  closing  arguments  to  the  jury  and  then  for  three  weeks 
matched  the  heat  of  Indian  summer  with  their  perfervid  oratory. 
These  addresses  were  concluded  on  September  25  when  the  case 
went  to  the  jury— an  issue  welcomed  by  the  judge  on  behalf  of  all 
with  joyous  relief. 

The  prosecution  in  presenting  its  case  first  established  the  corpus 
delicti,  namely,  that  a  crime  had  been  committed,  that  the  depot 
fire  had  not  been  an  accident  but  had  been  deliberately  set.  Several 
witnesses,  most  of  them  employees  of  the  railroad  company,  stated 
that  the  fire  could  not  have  resulted  from  the  overheating  of  the 
machinery  used  to  elevate  wheat  and  other  freight  to  storage  bins 
on  the  second  story.  They  also  declared  that  they  had  first  seen  the 
flames  in  the  cupola  of  the  building,  high  above  the  stored  freight, 


where  Gay  was  alleged  to  have  secreted  the  ignited  "match."  The 
cross-examination  of  these  witnesses  by  the  defense  brought  out  the 
possible  accidental  causes  of  the  fire,  particularly  the  fact  that  work 
in  the  depot  continued  until  midnight  and  that  ordinary  tallow 
candles  in  sconces  fixed  to  posts  throughout  the  building  and  over 
the  wooden  storage  bins  had  been  used  for  illumination.  Seward 
and  Frink  insisted  that  the  corpus  delicti  had  not  been  proven  by 
any  means. 

The  prosecution  then  brought  its  secret  agents  and  informers  to 
the  stand  to  describe  the  hostility  of  the  defendants  to  the  com- 
pany, their  secret  meetings  in  Filley's  tavern,  and  their  criminal 
attacks  on  railroad  property  in  Jackson  County.  The  defense  im- 
mediately offered  strong  objections  to  the  admission  of  such  evi- 
dence. Frink  argued  that  the  indictment  was  for  a  single  offense  and 
that  the  state  could  not  seek  to  prove  other  offenses  or  go  beyond 
proof  of  the  agreement  to  hire  Gay  to  burn  the  depot.  Van  Dyke, 
in  reply,  admitted  that  the  indictment  before  the  court  was  for 
the  single  offense  of  burning  the  depot  in  Detroit,  but  asserted  that 
it  was  proper  to  introduce  evidence  tending  to  show  the  existence 
of  a  conspiracy  generally  to  destroy  the  property  of  the  railroad 
and  embracing  within  it  the  design  to  burn  the  depot  as  charged. 
The  crimes  in  Jackson  County,  he  explained,  were  part  of  a  grand 
scheme  culminating  in  arson  in  Detroit.  Seward  countered  by  in- 
sisting that  the  defendants  were  being  tried  for  one  crime  and  one 
crime  only,  not  for  conspiracy,  or  treason,  or  larceny,  but  for  arson; 
because  they  may  have  committed  other  crimes  elsewhere  and  at 
other  times  did  not  prove  that  they  burned  the  depot.  After  hear- 
ing both  sides  argue  at  length.  Judge  Wing  decided  in  favor  of  the 
prosecution,  ruling  as  admissible  the  testimony  to  prove  all  acts 
done  under  the  general  combination  against  the  railroad.  He  did 
not  think  the  introduction  of  such  evidence  would  prejudice  the 
defendants'  case.  As  he  later  explained  to  the  jury,  the  evidence 
thus  received  was  not  for  the  purpose  of  showing  the  defendants 
capable  of  committing  the  crime  as  charged;  as  such,  it  was  in- 
admissible and  irrelevant.  "It  was  admitted,"  he  made  clear,  "to 
show  the  original  combination  between  the  defendants,  having 
in  view  the  ultimate,  though  contingent,  burning  of  the  depot  at 
Detroit;  to  show  that  as  defendants  were  still  working  out  their 
original  plan,  they  had  not  abandoned  it  up  to  the  period  when  the 


depot  was  burned,  and  thus  show— or  raise  a  presumption— that 
their  scheme  was  in  full  force  when  the  depot  was  burned."  That 
the  jury  of  laymen  could  always  appreciate  the  legal  distinction 
and  not  allow  themselves  to  be  impressed  by  the  guilt  of  the  de- 
fendants in  committing  crimes  in  another  jurisdiction  for  which 
they  were  not  being  tried  was  open  to  question.  And  the  lawyers 
for  the  defense  continued  to  take  exception  to  the  ruling  of  the 
court  admitting  such  and  similar  evidence. 

The  prosecution  had,  without  doubt,  won  an  important  victory: 
all  the  evidence  so  carefully  gathered  by  Clark  and  his  agents  for 
many  months  in  Jackson  County  could  now  be  used  against  the 
defendants.  Witnesses  were  paraded  before  the  court  who  detailed 
every  expression  of  hostility,  pointed  or  implicit,  uttered  by  the 
defendants,  drunk  or  sober,  against  the  railroad  and  its  policies. 
Every  mishap  along  the  line  of  the  road  between  Grass  Lake  and 
Jackson  was  minutely  recounted  and  by  imputation  fastened  on 
the  "conspirators."  The  meetings  at  Filley's  tavern  were  blown  up 
into  "secret  conclaves"  of  a  deep  conspiratorial  nature.  The  wit- 
nesses emphasized  the  strong  mutual  loyalty  of  the  defendants, 
their  repeated  boasts  of  how  they  would  stand  by  each  other  and 
swear  each  other  clear  if  any  fell  afoul  of  the  law.  And  guiding 
them  all,  encouraging  all,  the  state  contended,  was  Fitch,  shrewd 
and  unscrupulous,  hating  the  railroad  and  Brooks,  and  using  his 
friends  in  his  own  personal  war  with  the  monster  corporation, 
while  he  kept  his  own  hands  clean. 

On  cross-examination,  the  defense  pointedly  brought  out  the 
casual  and  public  nature  of  the  meetings  in  a  tavern  open  to  all. 
It  tried  to  discredit  those  witnesses  who  were  in  the  pay  of  the 
company  by  suggesting  that  their  motives  were  mercenary  and  that 
their  wages  were  dependent  on  their  providing  the  desired  infor- 
mation. Some  of  the  witnesses  were  also  brought  to  admit  that  they 
had  sometimes  been  accomplices  and  participants  in  attacks  on 
railroad  property. 

Wescott  was  one  of  the  key  witnesses  for  the  prosecution.  Under 
the  skillful  guidance  of  Van  Arman,  he  related  what  he  had  heard 
and  seen  during  the  four  months  he  had  been  at  Michigan  Centre 
as  a  spy.  He  underlined  the  testimony  of  previous  witnesses  about 
the  determination  and  cohesion  of  the  defendants  in  their  hostility 
to  the  railroad.  They  had  said  many  times  in  his  presence,  "Yes,  we 


are  banded  together  and  will  stick  together,"  and,  "So  long  as  we 
stick  together  all  hell  can't  convict  us."  He  told  of  his  intimacy 
with  Fitch  and  how  the  latter  had  confided  in  him  and  told  him 
of  the  exploits  of  the  boys  at  the  Centre.  He  clearly  pictured  Fitch 
as  the  mastermind  of  the  conspiracy,  who  with  Filley  had  actually 
paid  off  the  boys  for  each  criminal  task  assigned.  Wescott  carried 
the  state's  case  a  great  step  fonvard  by  telling  how  Fitch  had  re- 
vealed to  him  his  plan  to  climax  the  attacks  on  the  railroad  by 
burning  the  depots  at  Detroit,  Ann  Arbor,  Jackson,  and  Niles, 
off ering  $  1 ,000  to  anyone  who  would  bum  all  four,  or  $250  for  any 
one  of  them.  Fitch,  he  said,  had  actually  tried  to  get  him  to  burn 
the  Detroit  depot.  Conspiracy,  motives,  methods,  intent— Wescott 
happily  supplied  all  the  ingredients  necessary  for  a  conviction.  He 
also  for  the  first  time  linked  Fitch  with  Gay  and  told  how  in  dis- 
guise, he  had  trailed  Fitch  and  Joe  Dows,  a  notorious  criminal, 
to  Gay's  house  in  Detroit  in  February,  1851. 

Frink  and  Seward  could  not  shake  Wescott's  testimony  on  cross- 
examination.  All  they  could  do  was  to  try  and  impeach  his  credi- 
bility by  bringing  out  that  he  had  once  been  indicted  for  forgery 
and  again  by  suggesting  that  he  had  a  direct  financial  stake  in  the 
case,  that  he  expected  a  1 1,000  reward  if  the  defendants  were  con- 
victed by  his  testimony. 

The  star  witness  for  the  prosecution  was,  of  course,  Henry 
Phelps.  For  a  day  and  a  half,  under  Van  Arman's  questioning, 
he  cleverly  and  coolly  wove  a  net  of  guilt  around  the  defendants. 
He  brought  home  the  crime  of  arson  to  them.  He  revealed  how 
they  had  hired  him  to  burn  the  depot  in  Niles  and  "fixed  him  out" 
for  the  expedition  in  arson  on  the  night  of  April  11,  1851,  at 
Filley's  tavern.  They  had  supplied  him  that  night  with  a  "match" 
similar  to  the  one  they  had  given  Gay  to  burn  the  depot  in  Detroit. 
Fitch,  Filley,  Price,  Corwin,  Williams,  and  Freeland  had  severally 
admitted  to  him  that  they  had  contributed  to  the  purse  raised  for 
Gay.  Gay  on  his  part  had  confessed  to  him,  Phelps,  that  he  had  been 
furnished  the  match  by  the  men  from  the  Centre  and  that  on  the 
night  of  the  fire  he  had  placed  the  ignited  match  in  the  cupola  of 
the  depot  and  that  the  boys  had  paid  him  for  the  job.  Phelps 
further  confirmed  by  personal  knowledge  that  Fitch  had  been  ac- 
quainted with  Gay. 

Phelps  was  subjected  to  a  severe  probing  cross-examination  by 


Frink  and  Seward  for  another  day  and  a  half.  They  tried  in  vain 
to  get  him  to  contradict  himself,  for  he  stuck  to  his  story  and 
parried  all  thrusts  with  great  finesse.  Defense  counsel  had  to  resort 
again  to  bringing  out  the  details  of  his  unsavory  past,  his  business 
defaults,  and  his  five  year  term  in  the  state  prison  for  horse-stealing. 
They  impugned  Phelps'  motives  by  trying  to  show  that  he  hated 
Fitch  and  wished  to  take  revenge  on  him,  but  the  witness  denied 
any  such  feelings  and  insisted  that  Fitch  had  been  one  of  his  best 
friends.  Phelps  denied  any  and  all  villainies  that  the  defense  im- 
puted to  him. 

Following  Phelps  on  the  stand,  Heman  Lake  confirmed  substan- 
tially all  the  testimony  of  his  mentor.  When  counsel  tried  to  im- 
peach his  character,  they  incidentally  revealed  the  main  lines  of 
the  defense  and  offered  too  an  amusing  little  byplay.  Frink  asked 
Lake  where  he  had  been  lodging  during  the  trial.  Lake  answered 
that  he  had  boarded  with  Wescott  most  of  the  time  he  had  been  in 
Detroit  but  had  also  spent  some  time  at  the  home  of  Gay's  widow. 
When  Frink  followed  this  up  by  asking  whether  he  had  slept  at  the 
brothel,  Stuart  objected  for  the  prosecution  that  the  question  was 
immaterial.  Seward  contended  that  the  question  was  very  much  to 
the  point,  inasmuch  as  Lake  was  one  of  the  state's  chief  witnesses 
and  the  defense  was  entitled  to  investigate  him  thoroughly.  He 
added  that  his  clients  were  charged  with  conspiracy,  but  he  in- 
tended to  prove  that  they  were  themselves  the  victims  of  a  con- 
spiracy hatched  by  Phelps,  Lake,  and  others  in  Gay's  house;  it  was 
highly  important,  therefore,  to  show  the  conduct  of  one  of  the 
principals  in  such  an  atrocious  plot.  Van  Dyke  then  pointed  out 
that  Lake  had  the  privilege  of  refusing  to  answer  the  question  if 
his  reply  tended  to  incriminate  or  degrade  him.  The  judge  upheld 
the  point  and  Lake  accordingly  refused  to  answer.  He  was  then 
asked:  "Have  you  not  since  the  death  of  Gay  been  in  the  constant 
practice  of  sleeping  with  the  widow  Gay?"  Again  the  question  was 
objected  to  on  the  ground  that  it  involved  a  crime  and  could  not 
be  asked  any  more  than  a  witness  could  be  asked  if  he  had  com- 
mitted a  murder.  The  court  again  upheld  the  objection  and  Lake 
did  not  answer. 

He  did  admit  under  further  questioning,  however,  that  he  had 
taken  Mrs.  Gay  to  Marshall  and  then  to  Royal  Oak  to  keep  her 
from  being  called  as  a  witness  for  the  defense.  Prosecuting  Attorney 


Stuart  later  admitted  that  Lake  had  done  so  at  his  suggestion.  He 
explained  that  some  of  the  lawyers  for  the  defense  had  been  "in  the 
nightly  practice  of  visiting  and  making  improper  approaches  to  this 
woman"  and  hoped  to  get  her  to  testify  for  them,  and  that  the 
prosecution  therefore  had  taken  measures  to  protect  her  from  de- 
fense counsel  so  that  "she  might  not  be  induced  to  become  a  witness 
in  this  case  for  the  purpose  of  defeating  the  ends  of  public  justice." 
Lake  accordingly  had  been  instructed  to  escort  Mrs.  Gay  out  of 

Strangely  enough,  the  defense  did  not  then  rise  to  object  to  the 
ethics  of  the  prosecution  in  spiriting  away  such  a  material  witness. 
Seward  resented,  rather,  the  implication  that  he,  as  one  of  the  law- 
yers for  the  defendants,  had  been  the  one  who  had  frequently 
visited  Mrs.  Gay  at  the  bawdy  house.  Van  Dyke  said  he  would 
freely  exonerate  Mr.  Seward  from  the  charge.  William  A.  Howard 
also  proclaimed  his  innocence.  Hewitt  finally  came  out  and  ad- 
mitted that  he  was  the  lawyer  referred  to,  but  assured  the  court 
that  he  had  visited  the  widow  purely  in  a  professional  capacity, 
believing  that  she  knew  something  about  the  case.  He  had  good 
reason,  he  explained,  to  believe  from  what  Gay,  his  client,  had  told 
him  before  his  death  in  jail,  that  Phelps  and  Lake  had  schemed 
with  Gay  to  charge  the  defendants  with  the  crime  of  arson  and 
divide  a  $1,000  reward  between  them,  and  that  Mrs.  Gay  was  aware 
of  the  plot.  He  had  therefore  visited  her  several  times  to  elicit  this 
information  from  her  but  had  been  balked  in  his  efforts  by  the 
presence  of  railroad  agents. 

The  prosecution  completed  its  case  on  July  8  and  rested.  Frink 
immediately  announced  that  he  would  present  a  motion,  under  the 
common  law  as  well  as  the  statute,  to  discharge  twenty-four  defend- 
ants against  whom  no  criminal  evidence  had  been  adduced.  On 
the  advice  of  the  court,  however,  he  waited  almost  two  weeks,  and 
then  after  the  defense  had  begun  to  present  its  case,  asked  the 
court  to  discharge  or  direct  the  jury  to  render  a  verdict  in  favor  of 
six  minor  defendants  against  whom  there  was  slight  or  no  evidence. 
After  lengthy  arguments,  the  judge  instructed  the  jury  to  find  a 
verdict  of  "not  guilty"  for  three,  but  decided  to  hold  the  rest  for 
continued  trial.  The  purpose  of  the  defense,  in  making  this  move, 
was,  no  doubt,  to  gain  a  point  with  the  jury  by  forcing  it  to  realize 
the  weakness  of  the  prosecution's  case.  More  important,  they  hoped 


to  get  many  of  the  defendants  discharged  at  this  stage  so  that  they 
could  serve  as  witnesses  for  the  defense:  while  they  were  defendants 
they  could  not  be  called  to  the  stand  to  testify,  according  to  Mich- 
igan law.  The  purpose  of  the  common  law  ruling  allowing  de- 
fendants to  be  freed  before  a  trial  was  over  was  to  prevent  the 
prosecution  from  including  in  the  indictment  important  witnesses 
against  whom  there  was  no  real  evidence  in  order  to  deprive  the 
defense  of  their  testimony.  Fitch  suspected  that  this  was  precisely 
so  in  the  present  case.  "They  have  taken,"  he  wrote  his  wife,  "many 
these  folks  prisoners  to  exclude  their  testimony  in  my  trial  so  I 
could  not  prove  where  I  was  so  that  their  lying  devils  would  not 
be  detected  in  their  false  swearing  ..."  And  though  Van  Dyke 
now  argued  that  there  was  sufficient  evidence  against  these  defend- 
ants to  hold  them  and  the  court  agreed,  it  is  noteworthy  that  at 
the  end  of  the  trial,  he  did  not  even  ask  for  the  conviction  of  twenty 
of  the  defendants  originally  named  in  the  indictment.^'^ 

With  most  of  Fitch's  and  Filley's  neighbors  and  friends  thus  dis- 
qualified from  testifying,  the  defense  found  it  almost  impossible  to 
dispute  the  incriminating  evidence  of  Wescott,  Phelps,  and  Lake. 
It  had  to  try  to  catch  up  the  hostile  witnesses  on  circumstantial  con- 
tradictions in  their  own  testimony.  Above  all,  as  Fitch  put  it,  "our 
whole  effort  must  be  made  to  impeach  Phelps."  But  even  this  plan 
of  defense  was  beset  with  unusual  difficulties.  Counsel  felt  ham- 
pered in  their  conduct  of  the  defense  by  the  difficulty  of  private 
access  to  their  imprisoned  clients.  The  latter,  confined  to  jail  and 
laid  low  by  disease,  could  do  almost  nothing  in  their  own  behalf. 
Fitch,  the  target  and  the  leader,  could  only  call  on  his  wife  and  his 
free  friends  to  come  to  his  aid.  Money  was  needed  to  pay  the 
lawyers  and  round  up  witnesses,  and  it  was  Fitch  who  raised  the 
necessary  sums,  borrowing  on  mortgages,  selling  equipment,  call- 
ing in  a  note,  even  giving  a  mortgage  on  his  land,  and  eventually 
bankrupting  his  estate.  At  the  very  beginning  of  the  defense's  case, 
Frink  and  Howard  had  to  write  Superintendent  Brooks  asking  for 
passes  on  the  railroad  for  witnesses  they  wished  to  bring  to  Detroit, 
in  the  same  manner  as  the  prosecution  witnesses  had  been  "passed" 
over  the  road.  "The  defendants,"  they  explained,  "with  one  or  two 
exceptions  are  too  poor  to  pay  for  procuring  the  witnesses  necessary 
to  their  defense."  ®^ 

Despite  all  these  difficulties,  the  defense  was  able  to  produce  a 


great  number  of  witnesses  and  present  a  strong  case.  Some  witnesses 
from  Jackson  and  Washtenaw  counties,  having  read  about  the  case 
in  the  newspapers  or  heard  it  discussed,  recalled  pertinent  informa- 
tion and  came  forward  voluntarily,  out  of  sympathy  for  the  de- 
fendants or  dislike  for  Phelps  and  the  railroad.  Most  of  them, 
however,  were  rounded  up  by  Fitch's  devoted  friends:  Anson  Dela- 
mater,  Henry  S.  Holcomb,  Edward  Higby,  and  Isaac  D.  Toll,  farm- 
ers and  merchants  of  Jackson,  Michigan  Centre,  and  vicinity. 
These  men  did  the  field  work,  tracking  down  leads,  interviewing 
prospective  witnesses,  taking  down  their  depositions,  and  bring- 
ing them  to  Detroit  to  court. 

In  opening  the  case  for  the  defense,  William  A.  Howard  tried 
to  surmount  another  great  handicap  with  which  the  prosecution 
had  hobbled  its  opponents.  He  referred  to  the  "ingenious  at- 
tempts" to  prejudice  the  jury  by  the  introduction  of  evidence 
that  the  defendants  had  boasted  that  no  jury  would  ever  convict 
them,  that  they  could  bring  any  number  of  witnesses  to  swear 
them  clear.  The  prosecution,  Howard  charged,  wished  the  jury 
to  look  "with  a  jealous  eye"  on  all  defense  witnesses.  He  said  that 
"the  prosecution  reminded  him  of  the  invention  of  a  pair  of  yellow 
glass  spectacles  which  caused  lard  to  look  like  butter.  They  viewed 
everything  through  colored  glass  and  the  acts  of  all  the  prisoners 
looked  bilious  in  their  visions." 

Howard's  counterattack  may  have  helped  the  defense  in  over- 
coming the  stigma  of  premeditated  perjury,  but  it  eventually 
proved  futile  when  one  of  the  defense  witnesses  broke  down  and 
confessed  to  that  very  crime.  John  Hawley  of  Indiana  testified  on 
July  15  that  Phelps  had  in  the  previous  September  come  to  see  him 
and  offered  him  $50  to  burn  the  Detroit  depot  and  swear  it  on  to 
some  men  who  lived  on  the  railroad  and  thus  share  the  reward  that 
the  company  would  offer.  If  true,  Hawley's  testimony  would  have 
gone  a  long  way  toward  destroying  Phelps'  credibility  and  raised 
the  presumption  that  it  was  he  who  was  guilty  of  conspiracy.  Un- 
fortunately for  the  defense,  Hawley  was  arrested  the  next  day  and 
charged  with  perjury.  Stuart  announced  in  court  that  Hawley  had 
admitted  that  his  testimony  had  been  entirely  fabricated  and  that 
he  had  never  seen  Phelps  until  he  had  come  into  the  courtroom. 
After  the  defense  had  closed,  Stuart  cleverly  produced  Hawley  in 
court  and  there  the  latter  made  a  complete  confession  of  how  he 

[67  ] 

had  been  bribed  by  Elder  Billings,  the  minister  at  Jackson  prison 
who  had  been  active  on  behalf  of  the  defense,  to  commit  perjury. 
He  now  declared  that  his  conscience  had  bothered  him  and  he 
wished  to  make  a  clean  breast.  At  one  blow,  the  statements  of  every 
defense  witness  was  placed  under  a  dark  cloud.  True,  Seward  in 
his  closing  argument  to  the  jury,  disclaimed  responsibility  for 
Hawley  and  stated  that  he  had  been  maliciously  imposed  on  the 
defense  by  enemies  of  Phelps.  He  disowned  Hawley  as  a  "silly 
fool"  and  declared  that  others  with  like  testimony  had  been  re- 
jected by  the  defense  itself.  On  the  whole,  however,  the  Hawley 
incident  must  have  greatly  harmed  the  defense,  and  the  prosecu- 
tion, in  its  final  pleas  to  the  jury,  hammered  away  strongly  at  the 

The  case  for  the  defense  or  at  least  its  impact  on  the  jury  was 
further  weakened  by  the  relentless  and  highly  eflEective  cross- 
examination  to  which  its  witnesses  were  subjected  by  the  prosecu- 
tion lawyers,  Van  Arman  and  Van  Dyke.  With  the  canny  Phelps 
at  their  elbows,  advising  and  giving  them  leads,  the  two  were  able 
to  trip  up  the  country  bumpkins  who  appeared  for  the  defense. 
Some  of  these  farmers  spoke  of  the  two  lawyers  as  being  "rather  like 
badgers"  and  complained  of  being  browbeaten.  Van  Arman,  in 
particular,  savagely  and  skilfully  plied  the  witnesses  with  a  barrage 
of  questions  on  circumstantial  details  that  confused  and  exasper- 
ated them  and  must  have  raised  some  doubts  in  the  jury's  minds 
about  their  general  credibility.  Van  Arman  here  laid  the  basis  for 
his  reputation  as  a  highly  skilled  cross-examiner.  Thickset  and 
swarthy  as  an  Indian,  with  a  magnificent  head  and  a  strong  lower 
jaw,  he  overawed  the  witnesses  he  faced.  But  one  witness  amusingly 
turned  the  tables  on  his  tormentor.  Asked  by  Van  Arman  what  he 
and  a  friend  had  been  talking  about,  he  replied,  "He  said  .  .  .  that 
there  was  one  dark-skinned,  ugly-looking  specimen  that  was  a 
pretty  saucy  fellow  for  whom  a  man  had  better  keep  his  eye 
skinned,  that  he  was  rather  a  scabby  fellow  .  .  .  and  told  me  to 
look  out  for  him."  The  witness  then  coyly  added,  "He  didn't  tell 
his  name,  but  he  was  one  of  the  lawyers."  Laughter  in  the  court- 
room greeted  the  exchange  as  Van  Arman  asked  again,  "Didn't 
he  say  that  Van  Arman  was  the  man?"  Came  the  reply,  "He  didn't 
say  who  he  was— only  he  was  a  scabby  man  and  told  me  to  look  out 
for  him  as  he  would  browbeat  me  pretty  well."  A  moment  later, 


this  witness  tried  to  prove  he  would  not  be  browbeaten  when,  in 
answer  to  Van  Arman's  insistent  questioning  on  some  point,  he 
said,  "I  might  or  might  not;  don't  remember  as  I  did;  I  won't  want 
to  be  humbugged  any  longer;  I  told  you  all  about  it."  Directed  by 
the  court  to  answer,  he  replied  non-committally  and  then  parried 
the  next  question,  "If  he  did  say  anything,  he  may  have  said  so; 
if  he  said  so— why  he  said  so."  And  the  court  again  had  to  order 
him  to  answer  properly.  Other  witnesses  were  badgered  and  con- 
fused on  cross-examination  to  the  point  of  helplessness.  As  one 
said  to  Van  Dyke:  "You  keep  rattling  around  so  that  I  can't  find 
what  you  are  at  .  .  .  You  mix  it  up  so  I  can't  tell  when  the  day 
was  I  saw  [him]."  ^^ 

The  defense  lawyers  by  comparison  were  not  nearly  so  effective. 
Seward  and  Frink,  who  did  most  of  the  courtroom  work  for  the 
defense,  were  overshadowed  by  their  opposites  in  this  respect. 
Frink's  sympathy  for  his  clients  was  no  substitute  for  ability.  And 
Seward,  for  all  his  astuteness  and  driving  logic,  which  sometimes 
verged  on  sophistry,  just  did  not  shine  in  cross-examination.  Slight 
and  wiry,  with  his  long  narrow  head  and  big  nose,  thick  grizzled 
hair,  and  careless  dress,  the  Senator  impressed  those  who  agreed 
with  him  with  his  rugged  honesty  and  ability,  his  calm  dignity.  As 
Henry  Adams  once  remarked:  "There's  no  shake  in  him.  He  talks 
square  up  to  the  mark  and  something  beyond  it."  To  a  less  sympa- 
thetic observer  in  that  courtroom,  he  seemed  like  "a  pet  fox  made 
vain  by  adulation. . ."  "He  sits,"  this  acidulous  reporter  continued, 
"pursing  his  mouth  like  a  toothless  old  lady,  his  twinkling  grey 
eyes  see  all  in  the  room.  When  speaking  to  a  witness,  he  rubs  his 
hands  in  exultation;  then  gives  his  head  a  toss.  .  ."  Nor  did  the 
prosecution  lawyers  hesitate  to  taunt  the  Senator  from  New  York, 
whose  public  office  and  peculiar  political  views  laid  him  open  to 
attack.  They  made  slighting  references  to  the  "higher  law"  and  to 
the  morals  of  men  in  public  life.  Van  Arman,  a  Democrat,  brazenly 
accused  Seward  of  vanity  inflated  by  "the  fulsome  adulation  of 
partizan  editors  and  the  interested  flattery  of  partizan  friends.  ,  ." 
Even  Judge  Wing  could  not  resist  joining  in  such  hardly  proper 
depreciation.  One  Saturday  afternoon,  while  court  was  met  on  the 
second  floor  of  the  city  hall,  Seward  requested  an  early  adjourn- 
ment because  of  the  noise  from  the  market  below.  Wing  replied 
that  as  the  noise  might  make  it  difficult  for  Seward  to  be  under- 




April  1 1,  the  day  they  said  they  had  come  to  the  Centre  to  get  the 
match  and  be  "fixed  out"  for  the  trip  to  Niles  to  burn  the  depot 
there.  According  to  the  story  now  brought  out  in  court,  Phelps 
and  Lake  had  brought  the  match  encased  in  a  box  to  Michigan 
Centre  themselves,  deposited  it  with  Filley  for  safekeeping,  had 
then  inveigled  the  boys  to  the  tavern  at  the  Centre  on  the  pretext 
of  free  drinks  and  a  game  of  bowls,  and  finally  that  evening  asked 
for  and  received  the  box  from  Filley.  The  railroad  agent  who  had 
been  sent  there  by  Clark  for  the  purpose  of  witnessing  the  "fixing 
out"  had  seen  only  a  box  being  delivered  to  Phelps.  The  whole 
series  of  events  related  by  Phelps  and  Lake  had  been  nothing  but 
a  clever  fabrication  of  circumstances  to  make  it  seem  as  if  Filley, 
Fitch,  and  the  rest  had  provided  the  two  informers  with  a  match 
to  burn  the  Niles  depot.  On  the  stand  a  second  time,  Phelps  and 
Lake  denied  everything  and  stuck  to  their  original  story. 

The  defense  also  brought  evidence  into  court  to  contradict  Wes- 
cott.  The  picket  fence  around  Fitch's  house,  through  which  Wes- 
cott  had  said  he  had  crawled  to  eavesdrop,  was  produced  in  order 
to  show  that  no  pickets  had  been  removed  and  that  nobody  could 
have  crawled  through  or  under  it.  The  Fitches'  adopted  daughter, 
Amanda,  and  their  hired  girl  further  showed  that  W'escott  could 
not  have  overheard  Fitch  and  his  wife  discussing  the  campaign 
against  the  railroad,  as  he  said  he  did,  in  bed  in  their  first-floor 
bedroom,  for  they  had  slept  upstairs  on  the  second  floor  that  sum- 
mer. Little  Abel  Fitch,  the  adopted  son,  further  testified  that  the 
hole  under  Filley 's  barroom  was  too  small  for  him  to  crawl  into, 
let  alone  the  adult  Wescott. 

The  whole  case  against  Fitch  and  company,  the  defense  now  con- 
tended, was  nothing  but  a  conspiracy  on  the  part  of  Phelps,  Lake, 
and  Wescott.  The  three  had  cleverly  contrived  a  chain  of  circum- 
stance that  pointed  to  the  guilt  of  the  men  from  Michigan  Centre 
in  burning  the  depot  and  then  strengthened  it  with  their  own  testi- 
mony of  criminal  admissions.  But  there  was  evidence,  "dead,  cold 
mute,  inanimate  matter"  that  they  had  overlooked,  that  spoke  in 
"thunder  tones"  of  the  innocence  of  the  defendants.  The  defense 
then  exhibited  a  log  of  whitewood  which  had  been  found  buried 
under  the  hay  in  an  old  shack  on  the  farm  that  Phelps  had  lived 
on  till  shortly  before  the  arrests.  The  log  was  of  the  same  kind  of 
wood  and  of  the  same  dimensions  as  the  match  which  Phelps  said 

[71  ] 

the  defendants  had  given  him.  The  inference  that  Phelps  had  made 
the  match  himself  and  used  it  to  incriminate  the  innocent,  the 
prosecution  waved  airily  aside  on  cross-examination,  by  suggesting 
that  the  defense  itself  had  placed  the  log  on  Phelps'  land.  But  other 
witnesses  then  testified  that  two  or  three  weeks  before  the  match 
had  first  been  seen  by  Clark  and  Van  Arman,  Phelps  and  Lake  had 
borrowed  augers  the  identical  size  of  the  holes  drilled  in  the  match 
from  one  of  their  neighbors  and  that  Lake  had  been  seen  at  work 
with  the  augers  on  a  log  of  whitewood,  with  the  shavings  lying  on 
the  floor  about  him. 

And  why  had  Phelps  and  Wescott  conspired  against  Fitch?  Be- 
cause they  hated  him.  Phelps,  while  still  serving  his  term  in  Jack- 
son, had  told  the  foreman  of  the  prison  machine  shop  that  "he  was 
in  prison  through  the  influence  of  Fitch  and  others,  and  that,  if  he 
lived  to  get  out,  he  would  make  them  sweat  for  it,  and  give  them 
the  same  feed  they  had  given  him."  Another  prison  official  told, 
on  the  stand,  how  once  when  Fitch  had  been  visiting  the  jail, 
Phelps  had  pointed  to  him  and  said:  "If  you  knew  him  as  well  as 
I  do,  you  would  not  think  much  of  him;  he  was  the  means  of  my 
being  here  and  I'll  have  revenge  or  satisfaction." 

Phelps,  recalled  to  the  stand,  said  he  did  not  remember  having 
said  any  such  thing  and  insisted  that  Fitch  was  a  good  friend  of  his. 
Another  witness,  however,  brought  out  that  the  previous  January, 
when  Phelps  and  his  wife  had  spent  the  night  in  his  home,  he  had 
overheard  the  couple  whispering  in  another  bed  in  the  same  bed- 
room. Mrs.  Phelps  had  asked  her  husband  if  he  was  going  to  see 
Fitch  the  next  day  and  if  he  thought  he  could  do  as  he  calculated  to 
do.  Phelps  had  replied  that  if  Wescott  would  do  as  he  had  agreed 
to  do  and  stick  by,  he  thought  he  would  "come  a  good  drive."  It 
certainly  seemed  as  if  Phelps  and  Wescott  were  working  in  concert 
to  make  money  from  the  railroad  by  swearing  a  crime  against  their 
common  enemy.  For  Wescott,  too,  according  to  one  witness,  had 
once  openly  declared  that  Fitch  was  a  notorious  scoundrel  who 
would  appear  as  a  friend  to  your  face,  and  the  moment  you  turned 
your  back  would  run  a  dagger  through  your  heart  and  that  he 
(Wescott)  would  see  him  "peeping  through  the  grates  yet." 

Having  proved  to  its  satisfaction  that  Phelps,  Lake,  and  Wescott 
had  fashioned  a  broad  net  of  lies  to  entrap  Fitch  and  his  friends, 
the  defense  then  delivered  what  it  felt  to  be  the  coup  de  grace  to 


the  prosecution's  case.  It  produced  witnesses  to  show  that  the  cele- 
brated match  simply  would  not  burn  when  ignited.  The  witnesses 
told  of  experiments  conducted  by  Seward,  Howard,  Frink,  and 
others  on  a  match  made  according  to  the  specifications  Phelps  had 
given  in  court:  the  cotton  soaked  in  camphene  had  been  placed  in 
the  holes  in  the  log  and  ignited,  but  the  log  had  never  caught  fire, 
even  after  four  or  five  attempts.  The  whole  case  of  the  prosecution, 
the  defense  suggested,  was  not  only  false;  it  could  not  have  possibly 
been  true.  It  had  not  been  convincingly  proven,  moreover,  that  the 
fire  in  the  depot  had  been  deliberately  set.  Several  witnesses  testi- 
fied for  the  defense  that  they  had  first  seen  the  flames  elsewhere 
than  in  the  cupola,  where  they  should  have  been  if  Gay  had  really 
put  the  match  there.  Gay,  besides,  had  been  disabled  at  the  time 
and  had  to  use  crutches  and  could  not  have  carried  the  match  all 
the  way  up  to  the  cupola.  His  unwonted  prosperity  in  the  month 
of  the  fire  had  not  been  due  to  his  payment  by  the  "conspirators," 
but,  as  his  own  son  now  swore,  to  the  payment  of  several  notes  that 
he  had  held. 

In  rebuttal,  the  prosecution  brought  118  witnesses  who  testified 
that  they  had  never  heard  Phelps'  reputation  for  truth  questioned 
and  that  they  would  believe  him  under  oath.  A  county  judge,  mem- 
bers of  the  legislature,  lawyers,  doctors,  ministers,  merchants,  and 
farmers,  as  well  as  other  prison  officials,  appeared  in  behalf  of  the 
state's  star  witness,  asserting  that  from  1840  to  the  time  of  his  sen- 
tence for  horse  stealing  they  had  generally  found  Phelps  trust- 
worthy and  had  not  been  aware  of  any  reflections  on  his  truthful- 
ness in  the  communities  in  which  he  had  lived.  Many  of  them  ad- 
mitted, however,  on  cross-examination,  that  they  had  not  known 
Phelps  too  well  and  most  of  them  revealed  that  since  the  trial 
had  begun,  they  had  heard  some  people  speak  "very  hard"  of 
Phelps,  that  "enough  [had  been]  said  of  him  to  hang  the  devil," 
that  they  had  "heard  a  general  bark  about  him  lately." 

Mrs.  Phelps  herself  denied  on  the  stand  that  she  and  her  husband 
had  ever  whispered  in  bed  about  a  scheme  with  Wescott  to  "come 
a  good  drive"  over  Fitch.  Indeed,  Henry  had  always  looked  on 
Fitch  as  his  friend.  She  explained,  moreover,  that  Lake  had  bor- 
rowed the  augers  solely  for  the  purpose  of  mending  the  springs  on 
their  buggy  and  had  returned  them  the  same  day.  Additional  wit- 
nesses then  contradicted  important  points  established  by  the  de- 


fense:  the  flames  had  been  first  seen  issuing  from  the  cupola  of  the 
depot;  Fitch  had  been  abed  in  the  downstairs  room  when  a  tenant 
of  his  had  come  to  see  him  one  morning  in  the  summer  of  1850. 
As  for  the  log  of  whitewood  found  on  Phelps'  premises,  it  had  been 
unearthed  at  the  suggestion  of  the  crafty  Burnett  and,  by  implica- 
tion, had  probably  been  planted  there.  Furthermore,  the  prosecu- 
tion now  brought  out.  Elder  Billings,  who  had  bribed  one  witness 
to  perjure  himself,  had  tried  to  get  a  match  made  in  order  to 
secrete  it  in  Phelps'  house.  While  this  plan  had  not  been  carried 
out,  was  it  not  likely  that  the  whitewood  log  had  been  the  next  best 
substitute?  The  state  then  put  Dr.  Edmund  G.  Desnoyers,  a  Detroit 
chemist,  on  the  stand  to  prove  that  the  match  if  ignited  would 
burst  into  flame.  The  experiment  took  a  long  time  and  much  effort, 
and  a  substitute  for  camphene,  which  would  not  work  as  specified, 
had  to  be  used,  but  there  was  no  doubt  that  the  match  was  the 
incendiary  instrument  used  to  burn  the  depot. 

At  this  point,  Van  Arman  launched  a  sharp  attack  on  the  cred- 
ibility of  all  the  defense  witnesses.  One  farmer  and  his  son  had 
testified  for  the  defense  that  on  April  1 1  they  had  seen  Phelps  and 
Lake  part  company  on  the  way  to  Michigan  Centre  and  that  the 
latter  had  carried  a  bundle  the  size  of  the  match  wrapped  in  red. 
The  prosecution  had  sent  men  out  to  the  farm  in  question,  and 
they  reported  that  from  where  the  farmer  and  his  son  had  stood, 
no  one  could  see  passers-by  on  the  road  much  less  a  bundle  carried 
under  the  arm.  Van  Arman  suggested  that  the  jury  go  out  to  the 
farm  and  see  for  itself.  He  urged  haste,  for  as  the  place  was  so  near 
Leoni,  "the  defense  will  bring  twenty  or  thirty  to  swear  away  every 
fence  and  tree  about  the  place.  .  ."  Seward  objected  strongly  to 
these  personal  aspersions  and  countered  with  some  slighting  re- 
marks about  Van  Arman's  dual  role  as  counsel  for  the  people  and 
agent  of  the  railroad,  who  had  "descended  to  the  haunts  of  vice" 
to  secure  evidence.  With  regard  to  a  visit  to  the  field  near  Leoni, 
Seward  charged  that  the  prosecution  lawyers  had  already  inspected 
the  place  in  the  company  of  one  of  the  jurors,  and  sarcastically 
added  that,  this  time,  he  hoped  defense  counsel  would  be  per- 
mitted to  go  along.  Van  Arman,  standing  on  his  dignity,  said  he 
would  not  reply  "to  the  tirade  of  the  counsel,  which  he  presumes 
is  meant  merely  for  the  public."  Being  thick-skinned,  he  was  not 
at  all  wounded  by  the  pointed  remarks.  True,  he  had  visited  a 


"haunt  of  vice,"  but  he  had  "testified  to  truth  he  knew,  while  the 
other  counsel  was  here  for  months  seeking  to  screen  guilt. .  ." 

At  this  point,  the  court  interrupted  with  the  remark  that  the 
matter  had  gone  far  enough.  Prosecuting  Attorney  Stuart  inter- 
jected that  he  thought  Van  Arman  had  not  gone  "near  so  far"  as 
the  defense  counsel  in  rude  and  indecent  personal  attacks.  Judge 
Wing  replied  that  he  had  no  wish  to  prevent  counsel  from  reply- 
ing to  any  attack  on  his  integrity  but  merely  desired  to  prevent 
excitement.  Van  Arman  would  not,  however,  remain  silent.  He 
defended  his  own  actions  by  citing  his  high  motives,  to  prevent  the 
destruction  of  life  and  property  on  the  railroad.  He  insinuated 
that  Seward's  motives  in  endlessly  delaying  the  trial  had  not  been 
so  pure,  that  he  hoped  to  break  up  the  trial  by  the  death  or  illness 
of  a  juror  or  give  the  defendants  time  to  concoct  perjury.  Such 
conduct,  he  sneered,  could  not  be  distinguished  "in  point  of 
morality  from  helping  the  defendants  out  of  prison  by  handing 
them  a  file." 

After  this  bitter  contretemps  the  prosecution  recalled  Phelps  and 
Lake  to  the  stand  to  deny  that  they  had  made  any  matches,  or  knew 
anything  about  the  log  of  whitewood  found  in  the  hay,  or  had  sep- 
arated on  April  n,  or  brought  any  box  to  Michigan  Centre  that 
day.  With  this,  the  state  completed  its  rebuttal  and  rested. 

In  many  respects,  the  climax  of  the  trial  had  already  been  passed. 
On  August  24,  Abel  F.  Fitch  had  died  in  the  Sisters  of  Charity  Hos- 
pital to  which  he  had  been  removed  from  his  cell  in  moribund  con- 
dition. He  had  been  taken  sick  with  dysentery  on  August  12  and 
by  August  15  could  no  longer  appear  in  court,  which  then  ad- 
journed from  day  to  day  for  almost  two  weeks.  After  his  death,  the 
trial  continued  to  its  appointed  end,  but  the  proceedings  were 
something  of  an  anticlimax.  The  chief  defendant  was  no  longer  on 
trial;  he  had  gone,  as  the  piety  of  the  time  would  have  it,  to  appear 
before  a  higher  tribunal.  The  prosecution  persisted  in  its  efforts  of 
getting  a  conviction  and  setting  an  example  to  other  opponents  of 
the  railroad,  but  the  defense  lost  its  spark  with  the  death  of  a  sick 
and  lonely  man. 

All  during  the  long  hot  days  in  court  and  the  miserable  hot 
nights  in  jail.  Fitch's  hope  and  health  had  wasted  away.  In  his  now 
sporadic  letters  home,  disease  and  despair  were  the  keynotes.  He 
continued  to  proclaim  his  innocence  to  Amanda  and  took  some 


comfort  from  the  fact  that  Seward,  "the  old  guv,"  as  he  fondly 
called  him,  was  convinced  of  it  too.  He  felt  sure  that  the  railroad 
lawyers  knew  he  was  not  guilty  and  was  all  the  more  appalled  at 
their  determined  efforts  to  secure  a  conviction.  It  all  seemed  so 
unreal  to  him,  so  like  a  dream.  "It  does  not  seem  possible,"  he  told 
his  wife,  "that  we  can  be  sworn  to  States  Prison  by  such  devils, 
[but]  they  say  I  shall  never  breath  one  half  hour  of  free  air  while  I 
live."  Resigning  himself  to  a  martyr's  fate,  he  cried: 

If  this  RR  company  must  rule  this  State  why  the  sooner  we  know 
it  the  better  and  perhaps  I  may  as  well  be  the  first  victim  as  the  last.  .  . 
If  this  is  all  due  and  in  accordance  with  the  principals  of  our  government 
and  the  people  of  Michigan  are  wilhng  to  submit  to  it  why  I  must  of 
course  suffer  but  God  only  knows  whos  turn  will  come  next. 

Again  in  that  dark  hour,  his  mind  turned  to  his  dearest  Amanda. 
On  August  12,  his  yearning  burst  forth:  "How  much  I  want  to  see 
you  and  be  again  at  my  peaceable  home  with  my  quiet  little  family, 
language  cannot  express."  It  was  his  last  letter  home.'^^ 

Two  days  later,  on  August  14,  Fitch  took  to  his  bed,  never  to 
leave  it.  A  week  later  the  dying  man  was  removed  from  his  cell  to 
the  hospital.  Amanda  came  from  Michigan  Centre  to  be  with  him 
in  his  last  moments.  An  eyewitness  wrote  the  following  account 
of  the  end: 

At  3  o'clock  P.M.  yesterday,  Mr.  Fitch  became  conscious  that  he  could 
not  live,  and  talked  calmly  and  firmly  of  his  approaching  death.  He 
desired  that  Mr.  Frink  might  be  sent  for,  to  consult  about  his  worldly 
matters.  Prosecuting  Attorney  Stuart  and  Doctors  Rice  and  Pitcher 
arrived  about  10  o'clock.  An  examination  and  consultation  was  had,  and 
the  opinion  expressed  that  he  could  not  survive  the  night.  Mr.  Stuart 
went  to  the  bedside  of  the  dying  man  when  he  (Fitch)  inquired,  "What 
is  to  be  done  now?"  and  said,  "I  shall  die  a  martyr  to  liberty."  Soon 
after,  he  remarked  that  he  put  his  trust  in  God,  and  desired  that  he  might 
be  baptised.  He  received  the  solemn  rite  at  the  hand  of  one  of  the  Sisters 
of  Charity;  and  whilst  in  the  midst  of  the  ceremony,  while  committing 
his  soul  to  God,  he  declared  his  entire  innocence  of  the  crimes  with 
which  he  was  charged— said  he  had  never  violated  the  laws  of  his  country 
—that  he  had  simply  expressed  his  opinions,  as  he  supposed  he  had  a 
right  to  do,  and  thought  it  not  just  that  he  should  be  punished. 

Mr.  Fitch  then  called  his  wife  to  him,  bid  her  good  bye,  saying, 
"Farewelll  it  is  hard  to  part  with  the  only  being  I  ever  loved";  and  then 
bidding  adieu  to  other  friends  around  him,  closed  his  eyes  for  a  moment. 
Recovering  again,  he  exclaimed,  "There  is  poor,  dear  little  Amanda— I 
had  nearly  forgotten  her— remember  me  to  her.  I  dread  to  die  with  this 


charge  resting  upon  me.  Will  not  the  truth  come  out  and  my  character 
be  vindicated?"  Being  assured  by  Mr.  Frink  that  his  character  should  be 
vindicated,  he  expressed  himself  prepared  to  die;  and  taking  the  hand  of 
his  wife,  and  pressing  it  to  his  lips,  he  said,  "Amanda,  it  is  hard  to  part— 
I  die  of  a  broken  heartl"  and  fell  back,  asleep  in  death.''^ 

That  night  the  body  was  brought  to  Michigan  Centre,  and  to 
Jackson  the  next  morning  for  the  funeral.  A  procession  of  carriages 
and  teams  nearly  a  half  mile  long  accompanied  the  coffin  from  the 
Centre.  The  Congregational  Church  of  Jackson,  where  the  last 
services  were  held,  was  filled  to  overflowing,  with  people  crowding 
around  the  doors  and  windows.  The  Reverend  Gustavus  L.  Foster 
preached  the  funeral  sermon,  taking  his  text  from  Job  lo:  22, 
"Without  any  order."  Death  and  affliction  often  seemed  to  men  as 
without  any  order,  the  preacher  pointed  out;  and  Fitch's  death 
seemed  to  his  many  friends  who  believed  in  his  innocence  to  be  so. 
In  God's  wisdom  and  knowledge,  however,  nothing  was  without 
order.  Mr.  Foster,  with  characteristic  boldness,  then  proceeded  to 
attack  the  authorities  and  the  railroad  company  as  being  largely 
responsible  for  Fitch's  death.  He  condemned  "in  the  name  of  hu- 
manity" the  refusal  of  the  courts  to  grant  Fitch  bail  and  character- 
ized the  treatment  he  had  received  in  prison  as  "an  arbitrary  rigid- 
ity, amounting  well-nigh  to  the  infliction  of  cruelty.  .  ."  Nor  could 
one  expect  more  from  "heavy  monied  corporations"  that  existed 
only  for  gain  and  violated  the  Sabbath  by  running  trains  on  Sun- 
days. "Many  of  the  men  composing  the  company  owning  this  Rail 
Road  may  be  good  men,  spending  much  of  their  time  in  Psalm 
singing  in  eastern  churches,"  but  their  minions  in  Michigan  reck- 
lessly trampled  on  civil  and  divine  law  every  Sabbath  day.  Such  a 
corporation  was  bound  to  act  as  it  did  to  defend  its  rights,  but  indi- 
viduals too  had  rights,  especially  when  "arraigned  before  a  civil 
tribunal  which  should  never  feel  the  bias  of  a  moneyed  anxiety." 
The  preacher  did  not  shower  the  deceased  with  immoderate  praise. 
Fitch,  he  said,  had  been  neither  a  saint  nor  a  vile  creature,  but  a 
worthy  man,  who  had  never  turned  the  poor  away  from  his  door 
and  whose  generosity  had  won  him  more  friends  than  any  other 
man  in  the  region.^^ 

The  death  of  Fitch,  though  it  shook  the  defense,  brought  it  fresh 
accessions  of  public  support  and  sympathy.  As  the  astute  James  F. 
Joy  discerned,  it  was  bound  to  have  repercussions  that  might  affect 


the  outcome  of  the  trial.  The  day  of  the  funeral,  Joy  was  writing 
to  Superintendent  Brooks  that  Fitch's  death  would  "undoubtedly 
have  a  great  effect  on  the  public  mind"  and  cautioned  against  al- 
lowing anybody  connected  with  the  railroad  to  make  "injudicious 
remarks."  He  added  cannily, 

if  anything  be  said,  it  should  be  to  express  regret  at  the  course  taken 
by  the  defendants'  counsel  which  has  protracted  the  trial  through  the  hot 
season  and  sympathy  for  the  family  of  Fitch.  Better  however  say  nothing 
and  give  no  occasion  for  any  invidious  remark." 

Sympathy  needed,  however,  no  new  occasion  for  invidious  re- 
marks. As  the  wife  of  one  of  the  other  prisoners  informed  her  hus- 
band with  almost  hysterical  unbelief:  "News  has  just  reached  us  of 
Mr.  Fitch's  death  and  my  God  can  it  be  true.  .  .  This  company  I 
believe  means  to  keep  you  there  till  they  kill  you  all."  The  Jack- 
son American  Citizen  spoke  of  the  "universal  sadness  thrown  over 
our  community"  by  the  death  of  "one  of  the  victims  of  the  jealousy 
and  malice  of  the  Central  Railroad  monopoly.  .  ."  For  the  editor 
of  this  Whig  antirailroad  paper,  the  death  of  Fitch  only  under- 
lined his  opinion,  expressed  earlier,  that  the  trial  and  the  charges 
were  a  mesh  of  lies;  though  other  newspapers  on  the  line  and  north 
of  the  road  had  been  constantly  manufacturing  opinion  in  favor  of 
the  corporation,  he  would  not  be  deterred  from  honest  criticism 
by  fear  of  a  monopoly  of  a  few  foreign  capitalists  and  their  local 
political  hucksters.  Now,  he  reprinted  in  full  the  eyewitness  ac- 
count of  Fitch's  death  which  the  Detroit  Daily  Tribune  had 
printed  and  added  the  charge  that  Fitch  had  not  been  treated 
fairly  in  his  last  illness.  William  Gunn,  another  prisoner  who  had 
died  of  the  same  disease  a  day  or  so  later,  had  been  removed  to  the 
hospital  at  the  first  sign  of  illness,  while  Fitch  had  not  been  taken 
there  until  he  had  been  pronounced  incurable.  The  editor  then 
followed  this  charge  up  by  publishing  the  whole  of  the  Reverend 
Foster's  funeral  sermon  on  the  front  page  and  preparing  copies 
of  it  for  distribution  in  pamphlet  form.  A  little  later,  sentiment 
bubbled  over  into  bad  verse  when  there  appeared  in  the  columns 
of  the  American  Citizen  the  following  anonymous  "Lines  Written 
Upon  the  Occasion  of  the  Death  of  Abel  F.  Fitch:" 

Malice,  hate,  envy,  all  combined. 
His  peace  they  would  destroy, 


They  tore  him  from  the  sacred  arms 
Of  home  and  all  its  joys. 

They  dragged  him  to  a  felon's  cell- 
There  in  that  evil  hour. 
His  heart  was  crushed,  the  strong  man  fell 
Beneath  oppression's  power. 

Worn  out  at  last  with  dire  disease 
And  anguish's  keener  smart. 
Faintly  in  death's  cold  arms  he  said— 
I  die  of  a  broken  heart. 

Ye  men  of  monied  power  and  might, 
Hear  ye  those  dying  words. 
Look  at  the  lonely  widow's  form. 
And  see  the  wreck  that  ye  have  made.'^ 

Sympathy  for  the  deceased  and  doubts  of  his  guilt  were  not  con- 
fined to  Jackson  County.  The  official  organ  of  the  Baptists  of  Mich- 
igan, published  in  Detroit,  did  not  hesitate  to  celebrate  Fitch's  vir- 
tues and,  while  withholding  comment  on  the  trial,  declared  that 
the  public  mind  was  divided  on  the  question  of  his  guilt.  The  De- 
troit Daily  Tribune  itself,  which  four  months  previously  had  led 
the  pack  in  the  outcry  against  the  desperados  from  Jackson  County, 
now  called  Fitch  a  man  who  had  been  known  in  his  community  as 
kind,  conscientious,  and  charitable,  and  printed  the  dramatic 
deathbed  account.  This  newspaper's  reversal  was  neither  as  sudden 
nor  as  capricious  as  it  seemed.  Voicing  the  views  of  Free-Soil  Whigs, 
it  could  no  longer  escape  the  conclusion  that  the  interests  of  the 
railroad  and  the  political  fortunes  of  the  Democratic  administra- 
tion were  closely  bound  together  in  the  prosecution.  Early  in 
August,  after  the  defense  had  already  presented  most  of  its  case, 
the  Tribune  had  begun  to  express  editorial  doubts  about  the  guilt 
of  the  defendants.  A  week  later,  it  affirmed  "that  there  is  a  con- 
spiracy on  one  side  or  the  other"  and  warned  that  if  other  news- 
papers "enlisted"  on  the  side  of  the  railroad,  the  Tribune  would 
not  "be  awed  by  wealth— no  matter  how  great— into  silence."  It 
cautioned  the  prosecution  that  monied  power  must  be  used  pru- 
dently and  "never  to  control  public  opinion.  Courts,  Juries,  the 
Press,  or  oppress  the  weak  and  the  poor."  Journalistic  attacks  on 
the  defendants  and  their  counsel  would  not  help  the  railroad's 
cause,  for  there  was  too  much  respect  for  law  and  justice  in  the  city 


of  Detroit,  "too  much  hatred  of  oppression  and  tyranny  whether 
manifested  by  governments  or  corporations."  "^^ 

Sympathy  for  the  defendants  strengthened  the  feeling  of  the 
righteousness  of  their  original  cause— opposition  to  the  Michigan 
Central  Railroad.  Antirailroad  sentiment,  set  back  by  the  sudden 
strike  of  the  arrests  and  held  at  bay  by  the  judicial  proceedings, 
now  flared  up  once  more,  fueled  by  the  passions  arising  out  of  the 
trial.  The  focus  of  this  opposition  was  naturally  in  Jackson  County. 
Four  days  after  Fitch's  death,  an  "indignation  meeting"  was  held 
at  the  courthouse  in  Jackson  to  allow  the  citizens  to  vent  their 
feelings  about  the  trial  and  "to  ask,"  as  one  sympathizer  expressed 
it  in  a  letter  to  the  editor,  "if  our  hardy  yeomanry  stand  ready  to 
be  humbled  at  the  beck  or  nod  of  the  agents  of  a  great  monied 
monopoly."  The  speakers  at  the  crowded  gathering  were  careful 
to  blame  both  parties,  the  men  of  Leoni  as  well  as  the  Michigan 
Central.  The  company  had  precipitated  the  trouble  by  not  paying 
enough  for  cattle  killed,  but  this  was  no  excuse  for  damaging  rail- 
road property,  and  those  who  did  so  should  be  punished.  Resolu- 
tions were  passed  protesting  the  company's  use  of  spies,  the  manner 
of  the  arrests,  the  excessive  bail,  the  filthy  conditions  of  the  jail, 
and  the  treatment  of  the  prisoners  in  a  way  "as  would  have  dis- 
graced an  Austrian  Bastille."  It  was  charged,  too,  that  many  in- 
nocent persons  had  been  arrested  to  keep  them  from  appearing  as 
witnesses  for  the  defense.  Finally,  the  hope  was  expressed  that  the 
opposition  to  the  railroad  in  the  future  would  stay  within  legal 
limits  and  would  not  descend  to  criminal  violence,  but  would  up- 
hold the  right  and  further  all  means  to  encourage  competition 
with  the  Michigan  Central.  At  the  close  of  the  meeting,  a  com- 
mittee was  selected  to  prepare  for  a  larger  mass  meeting  on  Sep- 
tember 13  which  would  give  in  resounding  tones  "the  verdict  of  the 
People  as  to  Right  in  the  unholy  war."  '^'^ 

The  judicious  tenor  of  the  indignation  meeting,  culminating  in 
the  proposal  to  restore  competition,  suggests  an  inspiration  far 
removed  from  the  violent  anger  of  farmers  whose  only  piece  of  live- 
stock had  been  killed  on  the  tracks.  This  first  gathering  obviously 
laid  the  ground  for  the  well-organized  and  well-publicized  mass 
meeting  of  September  13,  which  was  dominated  by  outstanding 
merchants  and  politicos  of  the  community  who  were  not  averse  to 
using  the  resentments  aroused  by  the  trial  to  further  their  own 


ends.  The  second  meeting,  heralded  by  the  American  Citizen  as 
"5000  Freemen  in  Council,"  condemned  the  authorities  for  their 
conduct  of  the  trial  in  the  same  terms  as  its  predecessor.  It  too  re- 
gretted the  criminal  attacks  on  the  railroad  on  the  one  hand,  and 
the  policies  of  the  company  on  the  other.  It  heard  William  T. 
Howell,  an  old  antimonopoly  man  who  had  voted  against  the  sale 
of  the  railroad  by  the  state  back  in  1846,  call  the  Michigan  Central 
"the  curse  of  an  insolent  and  overgrown  monopoly  on  the  people." 
It  agreed  unanimously  that  "the  Central  Rail  Road  [had]  been 
using  our  laws  and  Government  as  a  means  of  outrage,  oppression 
and  injustice."  A  course  of  action  was  advised  for  the  future— to 
keep  an  eye  on  the  railroad,  elect  honest  men  to  office,  and  work 
to  build  a  branch  road  from  Jackson  to  the  Michigan  Southern 
Railroad  at  Adrian  in  order  to  create  competition.  Another  reso- 
lution called  on  the  Southern  Railroad  to  carry  out  its  pledges  to 
build  this  branch  road  and  pledged  the  assembled  citizens  to  "meet 
it  frankly  and  half-way."  Here  was  the  voice  of  the  men  who  were 
eager  for  a  connection  between  Jackson  and  Adrian  and  hoped 
then  to  carry  the  line  through  to  Grand  Rapids  as  part  of  the 
Grand  River  Valley  Railroad.  These  were  the  potential  investors  in 
new  railroads  in  the  interior  of  the  state  who  found  their  efforts 
blocked  by  the  monopoly  sections  of  the  special  charter  granted 
the  Michigan  Central  Railroad.  In  closing,  the  meeting  inscribed 
the  name  of  the  deceased  leader  on  its  banner  and  resolved  that  it 
would  "ever  cherish  the  memory  of  the  virtues  of  our  lamented 
friend  and  fellow-citizen,  Abel  F.  Fitch,  the  victim  of  a  foul  con- 
spiracy of  unjust  oppression  and  cruel  wrong."  "^^ 

The  same  issue  of  the  Whig  American  Citizen  which  printed  the 
detailed  story  of  the  mass  meeting  also  contained  a  two-column 
discussion  of  the  whole  conflict  of  the  farmers  and  the  railroad, 
defending  the  prisoners  and  attacking  the  policies  of  the  company 
and  its  local  supporter,  Wilbur  F.  Storey,  publisher  of  the  Demo- 
cratic Jackson  Patriot.  Editor  De  Land  carefully  explained  his 
own  position:  he  wished  "to  preserve  the  sovereignty  of  the  State 
in  the  hands  of  the  people  and  keep  it  from  the  grasp  of  foreign 
capitalists  and  their  lickspittles";  he  did  not  wage  war  against  the 
company  and  its  rights— it  had  in  fact  greatly  benefited  the  county 
and  the  state— "but  a  war  as  lasting  as  life  is  waged  against  its 
despotism,  as  displayed  by  its  agents."  Broadening  his  attack,  De 

[81  ] 

Land  called  the  railroad  monopoly  a  "locofoco  bantling"  which 
received  its  special  charter  from  a  Democratic  legislature  and  which 
subsequent  Democratic  legislatures  had  "tinkered  up  ...  to  suit 
Boston  capitalists  and  remove  them  from  the  reach  of  the  people." 
The  corporation  in  return  had  given  the  Democrats  funds  and 
votes  which  enabled  them  to  continue  in  office. ^^ 

The  shift  in  opinion  even  brought  defection  in  the  ranks  of  the 
prosecution.  Jacob  M.  Howard,  the  Whig  politician  who  had  been 
hired  by  the  company  to  assist  in  the  prosecution,  became  con- 
vinced that  he  had  made  a  mistake  in  taking  the  case  and  withdrew 
from  all  active  participation  in  the  trial,  explaining  that  he  no 
longer  believed  Henry  Phelps  was  telling  the  truth.^o 

The  railroad  and  its  supporters  began  to  fight  back.  The  Demo- 
cratic organ,  the  Free  Press,  and  the  old-line  Whig  Advertiser,  in  a 
nonpartisan  spirit,  continued  their  attacks  on  the  defendants  and 
their  counsel  in  defense  of  the  Michigan  Central  and  the  interests 
of  the  city  of  Detroit.  The  company  itself  tried  to  curry  whatever 
favor  it  might  by  placing  a  special  train  at  the  disposal  of  the  court 
for  a  visit  to  the  scenes  of  the  alleged  crimes.  The  train  carried  the 
party  of  judge,  jury,  and  lawyers  all  the  way  to  Marshall  where 
they  were  dined  and  lodged  overnight  at  the  company's  expense. 
Largesse  was  extended  to  the  point  of  cajolery  by  offering  free  rides 
on  the  cars  to  anyone  who  lived  between  Jackson  and  Detroit  to 
come  and  hear  the  closing  arguments  of  counsel.  One  of  the  eastern 
directors  of  the  company  resorted  to  threats  while  on  a  visit  to 
Detroit.  He  reportedly  said:  "These  prisoners  must  be  convicted 
and  unless  they  are,  there  is  over  ^7,000,000  of  property  rendered 
worthless.  If  they  are  not  convicted,  I  will  sell  my  stock  for  what 
I  can  get,  for  it  will  not  be  worth  a  cent  in  two  years."  This  in- 
judicious outburst,  if  true,  was  calculated  to  coerce  the  public  into 
demanding  a  conviction,  and  certainly  did  not  reflect  the  realities 
of  the  railroad's  situation.^i 

This  battle  for  public  opinion  was  carried  over  into  the  lawyers' 
final  arguments  to  the  jury.  For  two  full  weeks,  the  big  oratorical 
guns  boomed  away  at  the  judge,  jury,  and  each  other,  and  at  the 
public  within  and  without  the  courtroom.  To  accommodate  the 
large  audiences  of  nearly  a  thousand  who  came  to  revel  in  the  fes- 
tival of  oratory,  the  sessions  of  court  were  held  in  the  great  hall  on 
the  third  floor  of  the  new  Fireman's  Hall.  Here,  Stuart,  Van 

[82  ] 

Arman,  and  Van  Dyke  summed  up  the  case  for  the  state  and  refuted 
the  arguments  of  the  defense,  while  Frink,  Hewitt,  William  A. 
Howard,  and  Seward  sought  to  destroy  that  case  and  establish  the 
innocence  of  their  clients  by  pinning  the  crime  of  conspiracy  on 
the  prosecution's  chief  witnesses,  Phelps,  Lake,  and  Wescott.  Van 
Arman  spoke  for  two-and-a-half  days,  hammering  and  slashing 
away  at  the  defendants  with  vicious  invective  and  pulling  all  the 
stops  in  his  maudlin  appeals  to  the  jury.  Seward  replied  for  three 
days  in  a  masterful  harangue  compounded  of  logic,  learning,  melo- 
drama, and  cutting  sarcasm,  which  even  the  hostile  Free  Press 
found  uncommon,  though  it  sneered  at  the  speech  as  a  mixture  of 
"appropriate  quantities  of  the  dough,  the  sugar  and  the  spices." 
Van  Dyke  met  the  challenge  admirably  and  more  than  matched 
Seward's  forensics.  Tall,  dignified,  elegant,  this  "Chesterfield  of  the 
Michigan  Bar,"  made  the  final  plea  for  the  state,  suavely  and  skill- 
fully demanding  a  conviction  on  the  highest  moral  and  patriotic 
grounds.  The  other  lawyers  delivered  addresses  of  lesser  length  and 
force,  and  by  September  25  the  case  was  ready  to  go  to  the  jury.82 
Almost  as  much  as  on  the  merits  of  their  respective  cases,  counsel 
dwelt  on  those  issues  and  charges  which  were  agitating  the  public. 
Echoes  of  the  excitement  of  the  early  days  of  the  trial,  of  anti- 
corporation  sentiment,  of  the  death  of  Fitch,  and  of  the  resurgence 
of  sympathy  for  the  defendants  bounded  around  the  walls  of  the 
crowded  courtroom.  Now  it  was  the  defense  which  conjured  up  the 
ogre  of  an  omnipotent  monopoly,  which  had  whipped  the  public 
into  a  lather  of  vengeful  delirium  and  was  intent  on  crushing 
valiant,  humble  citizens  fighting  only  for  their  rights  under  the  law. 
And  it  was  the  prosecution  that  counseled  the  members  of  the  jury 
to  mistrust  and  ignore  that  fickle  guide,  public  opinion,  and  follow 
only  their  consciences.  Van  Dyke  admitted  innocently  that  right 
after  the  arrests  for  an  atrocious  crime  that  almost  burnt  the  whole 
city  to  the  ground,  "it  was  natural  that  for  a  time,  the  public  pulse 
should  beat  the  quicker,"  and  then  rhetorically  flung  the  charge  of 
arousing  the  public  back  at  the  defense: 

Have  the  prosecuting  counsel  run  through  the  streets  pledging  their 
honors  to  the  innocence  or  guilt  of  the  prisoners?  Have  they  sought,  day 
after  day,  to  raise  an  influence  that  might  be  brought  to  bear  on  your 
deliberations?  Have  they  sown  distrust  broadcast  in  the  community,  or 
gathered  public  meetings  for  the  purpose  of  denouncing  these  judicial 


proceedings?  Have  they  got  up  deathbed  scenes  .  .  .?  Have  they  pub- 
lished sermons  of  doubtful  morality  and  perverted  taste,  for  distribu- 
tion .  .  .  ?  Have  they  passed  through  the  streets,  stating  that  they  knew, 
and  could  v^^ager,  that  certain  of  the  jury  they  might  name,  would  never 
agree  to  convict? 

The  lawyers  for  the  defense  accused  the  state  of  hasty  circumven- 
tions of  the  law  and  of  virtually  depriving  their  clients  of  the  right 
to  bail,  of  using  spies  with  criminal  records  to  collect  evidence.  To 
these  charges,  Van  Arman  and  Van  Dyke  replied  that  the  trial  had 
been  a  free  and  fair  one,  according  to  law,  such  as  the  defendants 
could  not  have  had  anywhere  else  in  the  world.  As  for  bail,  it  was 
the  court  that  had  fixed  the  amount,  not  the  prosecution.  It  was, 
furthermore,  by  no  means  excessive,  considering  the  enormity  of 
the  crime.  If  the  bail  had  been  any  less,  these  dangerous  criminals 
would  have  been  set  free  to  continue  their  attacks  on  life  and  prop- 
erty. "Would  you  have  sent  your  wife  and  family  upon  that  [rail-] 
road,"  Van  Arman  asked  the  jury,  "with  these  men  at  large?"  And 
in  using  spies  of  shady  backgrounds,  the  company  had  only  fought 
fire  with  fire;  their  work  had  been  necessary  and  useful  and  hence 
honorable.  Besides,  who  were  these  men  who  now  appealed  for 
their  rights  at  law?  "Have  not  these  men  for  two  years  been  in  open 
and  avowed  rebellion  against  all  law  .  .  .,  trampled  upon  all  legal, 
social  and  moral  obligations  and  become  and  proclaimed  them- 
selves most  openly,  mere  pirates,  outlaws,  robbers  and  murderers?" 
By  their  crimes,  have  they  not  forfeited  "all  protection  and  con- 
sideration from  their  fellow  citizens?" 

Counsel  for  the  people  went  on  in  this  vein,  thoroughly  to  black- 
guard the  prisoners  in  the  dock.  Seward  had  pictured  his  clients 
as  simple,  honest  farmers  and  mechanics,  "pioneers  of  the  State," 
poor  struggling  settlers  in  a  new  land,  in  the  rural  hamlet  of  Leoni, 
who  were  seeking  justice  at  the  hands  of  powerful  wealth.  The 
prosecution  lawyers  dismissed  this  idyllic  portrait  as  ridiculous. 
These  men  were  an  organized  group  of  reckless  and  depraved 
felons  who  would  stop  at  nothing  to  gain  their  ill-conceived  ends. 
"Rural  hamlet,  indeed,"  Van  Dyke  sneered.  Leoni  was  a  benighted 
sink  of  iniquity  which  had  steadily  been  declining  in  population. 
It  was  not  strange  that  its  people  were  ready  to  burn  and  kill.  Van 
Dyke  explained: 

There  is  no  accounting  for  the  actions  of  men  who  begin  by  believing 


in  the  utter  corruption  of  all  who  surround  them,  even  of  those  whose 
virtue  and  wisdom  have  placed  them  to  preside  over  the  most  sacred 
institutions;  and  who  end  by  adopting  vengeance  as  their  guiding  star, 
and  hugging  that  hideous  passion  to  their  heart.  They  become  blind  to 
reason,  justice  and  humanity.  Every  feeling  turns  to  morbid  hatred; 
every  pulse  throbs  with  bitter  passion,  and  innocent  and  guilty  are  alike 
sacrificed  to  minister  to  an  insatiate  appetite  for  revenge. 

Some  of  the  defendants  had  died,  but,  ah,  sighed  Van  Dyke,  he 
could  not  but  wish  "that  while  yet  in  their  childhood  they  had 
sank  sweetly  into  their  last  repose,  long  before  vice  and  crime 
stained  their  youth  and  subjected  their  manhood  to  this  ordeal 
at  the  bar  of  their  offended  country."  Nothing  was  sacred  to  them, 
shouted  Van  Arman,  "not  even  the  holy  Sabbath.  Look  at  their 
moral  character,  playing  cards,  gambling,  drinking  and  carousing 
Sabbath  after  Sabbath.  Listen  to  their  horrid  oaths— their  blas- 
phemies. . .  Is  not  crime  the  natural  and  appropriate  sequel  of  such 
a  history?"  Not  merely  the  actual  crimes  of  the  defendants,  but  all 
the  possible  horrors  of  their  actions  were  spelled  out  for  the  jury 
in  fascinating  detail  verging  on  bathos.  The  Leoni  villains  had 
once  obstructed  the  tracks,  meaning  to  throw  off  a  scheduled  pas- 
senger train  into  the  Dry  Marsh,  but  by  chance  a  freight  train 
had  been  stopped.  Van  Arman  would  not,  however,  let  the  occasion 
slip  by;  he  wrung  every  drop  of  sentiment  from  it. 

Little  did  the  thoughtless  and  merry  company  who  left  your  city  on 
that  bright  summer  day  .  .  .  dream  of  the  deadly  perils  which  beset  their 
path.  Little  did  the  admiring  traveler  deem,  as  he  gazed  upon  the  smiling 
landscapes  .  .  .  that  such  a  land  could  harbor  the  bloody  assassin— that 
beneath  the  shade  of  those  sunny  groves  crept,  with  stealthy  tread,  the 
murderer,  against  whose  wiles  and  snares  the  arm  of  the  law  was  power- 
less to  protect  his  life.  Little  deemed  the  mother,  as  she  fondly  played 
with  infant  slumbering  upon  her  breast,  that  its  winding  sheet,  and  hers, 
was  prepared  in  the  cold  bosom  of  that  sunless  and  dismal  lake!  And 
yet  it  was  for  them— for  that  fated  train,  thus  heavily  laden  with  human 
beings,  that  the  fatal  toils  were  set.  In  the  silent  depths  of  those  stag- 
nant waters,  where  the  blessed  light  of  heaven  could  never  smile  upon 
them,  their  grave  was  dug. 

Van  Dyke  was  not  to  be  outdone  by  his  colleague.  He  too  dwelt 
tearfully  on  the  catastrophe  that  had  been  averted.  "Fancy,"  he 
begged  the  jury, 

fancy  that  doomed  train  approaching,  with  its  precious  freight— fami- 
lies returning  from  long  and  painful  absence— visions  of  home  and  hap- 


piness  flashing  before  them;  on  they  rush  unconscious  of  the  fate 
prepared  for  them;  there  is  a  sudden  stop— one  mighty  bound  of  the 
engine— one  shrill  whistle,  one  wild  scream,  and  all  is  over.  They  are 
sunk,  entombed— not  in  the  beautiful  cemeteries  where  mourning  friends 
may  weep  over  their  ashes— not  even  in  the  bright  clear  waters  of  our 
lake;  but  amid  the  slime  and  mud  that  ages  have  accumulated  in  that 
dismal  spot. 

The  defense  lawyers  could  not  match  these  fanciful  previsions  of 
doom,  but  were  not  altogether  inept  at  similar  pathetic  excursions. 
They  did  not  hesitate  to  play  up  the  death  of  Fitch  for  all  it  was 
worth,  presenting  him  as  a  martyred  hero,  a  victim  of  greed  and 
cruelty.  Frink  perorated  on  the  theme:  "His  life  has  been  sacrificed 
in  the  midst  of  his  days.  God  in  his  providence  has  permitted  him 
to  fall  upon  the  altar  of  freedom— a  victim  of  injustice  and  oppres- 
sion." Fitch  was  a  fine  man,  a  gentleman,  whose  innocence  counsel 
never  doubted.  And,  Frink  concluded,  soberly  prodding  the  jury, 
"a  higher  and  holier  tribunal  has  ere  this  judged  him  in  mercy." 
Seward  chimed  in,  in  turn,  "Death.  .  .  has  invested  the  transaction 
with  the  dignity  of  tragedy."  In  a  voice  husky  with  emotion  and 
constant  snuff-taking,  and  without  showy  oratorical  grace,  he  de- 
livered his  own  peroration,  which  must  have  left  the  jury  floun- 
dering in  its  own  tears.  "Fitch,"  he  exclaimed, 

who  was  feared,  hated  and  loved  most  of  all,  has  fallen  in  the  vigor  of  life 

"hacked  down 
His  thick  summer  leaves  all  faded!" 
When  such  an  one  falls,  amid  the  din  and  smoke  of  the  battlefield,  our 
emotions  are  overpowered— suppressed— lost  in  the  excitement  of  public 
passion.  But  when  he  perishes  a  victim  of  domestic  or  social  strife— when 
we  see  the  iron  enter  his  soul,  and  see  it  day  by  day,  sinking  deeper  and 
deeper,  until  nature  gives  way  and  he  lies  lifeless  at  our  feet— then  there 
is  nothing  to  check  the  flow  of  forgiveness,  compassion  and  sympathy. 
If  in  the  moment  when  he  is  closing  his  eyes  on  earth,  he  declares,  "I 
have  committed  no  crime  against  my  country,  I  die  a  martyr  for  the 
liberty  of  speech,  and  perish  of  a  broken  heart"— then,  indeed  do  we  feel, 
that  the  tongues  of  dying  men  enforce  attention,  like  deep  harmony. 
Who  would  willingly  consent  to  decide  on  the  guilt  or  innocence  of  one 
who  has  thus  been  withdrawn  from  our  erring  judgment,  to  the  tribunal 
of  eternal  justice?  Yet  it  cannot  be  avoided.  If  Abel  F.  Fitch  was  guilty 
of  the  crime  charged  in  this  indictment,  every  man  here  may  nevertheless 
be  innocent;  but  if  he  was  innocent,  then  there  is  not  one  of  these,  his 
associates  in  life,  who  can  be  guilty.  Try  him,  then,  since  you  must- 
condemn  him,  if  you  must— and  with  him  condemn  them.  But  remember 
that  you  are  mortal  and  he  is  now  immortal;  and  that  before  that  tribunal 


where  he  stands,  you  must  stand  and  confront,  and  vindicate  your  judg- 
ment. Remember,  too,  that  he  is  now  free.  He  has  not  only  left  behind 
him  the  dungeon,  the  cell  and  the  chain;  but  he  exults  in  a  freedom, 
compared  to  which,  the  liberty  we  enjoy  is  slavery  and  bondage.  You 
stand,  then,  between  the  dead  and  the  living.  .  .  You  will,  I  am  sure,  be 
just  to  the  living,  and  true  to  your  country;  because,  under  circumstances 
so  solemn— so  full  of  awe— you  cannot  be  unjust  to  the  dead,  nor  false  to 
your  country,  nor  to  your  God.^ 

Van  Dyke,  immediately  following  Seward,  could  not  let  the  ap- 
peal go  unchallenged.  He  opened  his  address  with  ironic  modesty: 

While  I  feel  pleased  in  beholding  the  laurels  which  this  trial  has  en- 
twined around  other  brows,  I  will  seek  to  gather  none  for  my  own.  I 
will  neither  wander  into  the  paths  of  fancy,  nor  address  myself  to  those 
who  sit  without  the  jury  box.  .  .  I  shall  not  seek  or  hope  to  leave  the 
impress  of  oratorical  power  upon  your  imagination.  .  .  You  must  expect 
from  me,  gentlemen,  no  eloquent  declamations.  .  .  I  will  not  weave  a 
single  wreath  of  fancy.  .  .  I  [shall]  refrain  from  pursuing  the  meteoric 
fancies,  eloquent  philippics  and  sublime  apostrophes.  .  . 

He  then  struck  back  at  the  defense's  dramatic  evocation  of  death 
and  innocence.  What  had  the  deaths  of  some  of  the  defendants  to 
do  with  the  case?  Because  two  of  them  had  died,  was  that  any  rea- 
son to  infer  the  innocence  of  the  remainder?  "Permit  me  to  ask  you 
gentlemen— what  have  you  to  do  with  death  bed  scenes— false  in 
fact,  morbid  in  taste  and  wholly  irrelevant  to  this  issue."  The  death- 
bed drama  was  fiction.  Fitch  was  without  doubt  delirious  in  his  last 
moments.  His  dying  words,  "dressed  up  as  they  now  are  .  . .,  would 
meet  from  the  deceased,  could  he  hear  them,  no  sign  of  recog- 
nition. . .  They  might  serve  to  adorn  a  page  of  some  yellow  covered 
novel— they  have  served  to  grace  two  elegant  perorations,"  but 
were  out  of  place  here  in  a  court  of  law. 

Even  more  reprehensible.  Van  Dyke  thought,  were  the  strictures 
on  the  railroad  corporation  delivered  by  his  opponents.  They  had 
described  the  railroad  company  as  a  grasping  monopoly  that  would 
brook  no  criticism  or  interference  in  its  relentless  pursuit  of  gain, 
that  sought  to  dominate  the  state  and  the  people  with  its  power  and 
crush  all  who  opposed  it.  The  trial,  according  to  the  defense,  was 
no  longer  an  issue  between  the  state  and  the  defendants,  but  as 
Frink  put  it,  between  Fitch  and  "the  monetary  power"  of  a  corpora- 
tion with  seven  million  dollars  capital,  "a  power  behind  and  above 
the  government— a  power  that  is  seldom  regulated  by  humane  and 

[87  ] 

just  sentiments;  that  always  seeks  to  crush  those  it  cannot  cajole. . ." 
Seward,  though  he  had  disclaimed  hostility  to  corporations  and 
support  for  illegal  methods  to  fight  them,  had  also  dwelt  on  the 
abuse  of  the  people  by  the  Michigan  Central.  "Corporate  wealth," 
he  had  warned  the  jury, 

cannot  long  oppress  the  citizen  in  such  a  country  and  under  such  a  gov- 
ernment as  this.  Your  verdict  against  these  defendants,  if  it  shall  appear 
to  be  well  grounded  upon  the  evidence,  will  abate  a  rapidly  rising  popu- 
lar commotion;  but,  if  it  shall  not  be  so  sustained  by  the  evidence,  a 
people  which  make  the  wrongs  of  each  one  the  common  cause  of  all,  will 
pick  strong  matter  of  wrath  out  of  the  bloody  finger  ends  of  a  successful 

At  this.  Van  Dyke  was  shocked.  He  assailed  such  demagogic 
appeals  to  bend  justice  to  popular  clamor.  He  defended  and  lauded 
the  corporation  as  a  harbinger  of  endless  prosperity  and  universal 
bliss.  It  was  not  true  that  strife  had  come  into  Michigan  when  the 
state  sold  the  railroad  to  a  corporation.  It  was,  on  the  contrary,  a 
"fortunate  hour,"  for 

where  heaven's  light  was  once  shut  out  by  dense  forests,  it  [now]  shines 
over  fertile  fields  and  rich  luxuriant  harvests  .  .  .  ;  hope  and  energy 
sprung  from  their  lethargic  sleep,  labor  clapped  her  glad  hands  and 
shouted  for  joy;  and  Michigan,  bent  for  the  moment  like  a  sapling  by 
the  fierceness  of  a  passing  tempest,  relieved  from  the  debts  and  burthens, 
rose  erect,  and  in  her  youthful  strength,  stood  proudly  up  among  her 
sister  states.  .  .  A  detestable  monopoly!  These  railroads  built  by  united 
energies  and  capital  are  the  great  instruments  in  the  hand  of  God  to 
hasten  onward  the  glorious  mission  of  Religion  and  Civilization. 

Van  Dyke  sorely  regretted  that  "the  eminent  counsel"  had  per- 
mitted his  "energetic  bile"  to  gush  forth  for  "sinister  purposes" 
and  had  talked  about  sacrificing  citizens  at  the  behest  of  dangerous 
monopolies.  Worst  of  all,  Seward  had  intimated  that  if  the  verdict 
were  not  satisfactory,  the  people  would  take  things  into  their  own 
hands.  These  were  "poisoned  and  dangerous  sentiments"  ap- 
propriate not  for  a  court  of  law  in  the  state  of  Michigan  but  for 
some  bloody  Paris  tribunal.  "Ah,  gentlemen,"  Van  Dyke  warned 
the  jury,  "there  is  a  worse  evil  abroad  through  this  land,  than  the 
overshadowing  power  of  corporations.  These  are  isms  of  dreadful 
and  fearful  import  around  us.  They  menace  our  public  institutions 
and  private  rights.  There  is  a  spirit  of  disloyalty  to  law  and  coun- 
try." There  are  attacks  on  the  revered  traditions  of  our  land  in  the 


name  of  a  "higher  law,"  in  which  public  clamor  is  placed  above 
the  law  and  the  people  are  aroused  to  sit  in  judgment  over  courts 
and  juries.  This  evil  can  lead  only  to  the  destruction  of  civili- 
zation. Beautiful,  prosperous,  peaceful  Michigan— it  has  come  into 
being  and  flourished  mightily  under  the  aegis  of  the  law.  Disregard 
the  law  and  you  destroy  all  this.  But  enough!  What  he  said  surely 
did  not  apply  to  the  law-loving  citizens  of  Michigan,  but  rather 
to  "some  foreign  district,  some  land  where  anti-rent  and  anti-law 
make  part  of  her  history,"  like  Mr.  Seward's  state  of  New  York. 

Finally,  Van  Dyke,  like  Van  Arman,  called  for  a  conviction  not 
merely  on  the  intrinsic  merits  of  the  case  but  equally  on  its  all- 
embracing  importance.  "This  cause,"  he  pointed  out, 

has  spread  through  the  confines  of  our  State  and  beyond  its  limits,  and 
a  world  is  looking  on  to  see  if  there  is  here  strength,  and  virtue  sufficient 
to  assert  the  integrity  of  the  law.  .  .  The  dignity,  the  honor,  and  the 
character  of  Michigan  are  in  your  keeping.  .  .  We  are  called  upon  by 
every  high  consideration  to  do  our  duty  in  this  case  .  .  .  Gratitude  for  the 
lovely  heritage  God  has  given  us;  patriotism,  love  for  the  beautiful  pen- 
insula, in  which  is  fixed  our  destiny  and  centered  our  all  of  earthly  good 
and  hope  ...  all  unite  in  one  voice,  and  ask  that  you  be  firm,  free  and 
steadfast  on  this  occasion.  For  if  these  dangerous  doctrines  which  pro- 
duced the  outrages  we  are  considering,  are  to  spread  from  the  hamlet  of 
Leoni,  throughout  the  breadth  of  the  land,  and  even  to  the  jury  box  of 
our  courts;  if  men  animated  by  deep  hate  against  a  corporation,  feel  and 
think  that  they  are  justified  in  redressing  their  own  real  or  fancied 
wrongs,  in  their  own  way;  if  courts  are  to  be  scouted  at,  laws  to  be 
trampled  on,  order  rushed  into  wild  confusion,  and  crime  sympathized 
with  and  left  to  stalk  unpunished;  then  indeed  have  evil  days  come  upon 
us.  Capital,  virtue,  peace  and  property  will  be  trodden  over,  and  crushed 
by  mob  violence  and  all  the  dire  evils  which  will  follow  in  its  train.  .  . 
The  first  jury  which  renders  a  verdict,  tainted  by  the  unhallowed  spirit 
of  fear,  or  public  opinion,  or  prejudiced  by  loud  clamors  against  monopo- 
lies and  tyrannical  corporations,  will  have  stricken  a  death  blow  at  this 
country's  honor  and  welfare. 

Van  Dyke  was  confident,  however,  that  Michigan  would  be  "loyal 
to  the  Union  and  to  the  law." 

These  solemn  appeals  for  loyalty  to  God  and  country  over- 
shadowed in  large  measure  the  summing  up  of  the  evidence.  In 
elaborating  the  legal  case  against  the  defendants,  the  lawyers  for 
the  prosecution  stressed  the  fact  that  they  had  been  engaged  in  a 
conspiracy.  The  men  of  Leoni,  it  was  clearly  pointed  out,  hated  the 
railroad,  swore  to  get  redress,  obstructed  the  tracks  and  attacked 


the  trains,  threatened  to  burn  depots,  met  and  discussed  their 
plans,  and  took  oaths  of  mutual  loyalty:  all  of  which  was  evidence 
enough  that  they  were  conspiring  to  destroy  railroad  property 
until  their  demands  were  met.  It  all  raised  more  than  a  pre- 
sumption that  they  also  burnt  the  depot  in  Detroit.  The  later  at- 
tempt to  burn  the  Niles  depot  was  equally  part  of  the  over-all  plan. 
True,  each  of  the  criminal  acts  against  railroad  property  at  or 
near  Michigan  Centre  had  not  been  brought  home  to  a  particular 
defendant.  But  it  was  not  necessary  to  prove  who  committed  each 
and  every  crime.  If  one  act  was  proved  against  one  man,  the  pre- 
sumption was  that  all  were  guilty  of  all  the  acts,  unless  proven 
innocent.  All  the  defendants,  moreover,  need  not  have  aided  and 
abetted  in  each  outrage  nor  even  have  been  present.  It  was  suf- 
ficient that  they  had  been  cognizant  of  the  offense  and  consented 
to  and  approved  of  it.  That  was  the  essence  of  conspiracy  or  com- 
bination: the  necessary  elements  of  "unity  of  motive,  purpose  and 
design"  were  all  present. 

As  to  the  crime  charged  in  the  indictment,  the  burning  of  the 
depot,  there  was  no  doubt  that  the  building  had  been  destroyed  by 
an  incendiary.  The  place  where  the  flames  had  first  been  seen  by 
reliable  witnesses,  in  the  cupola,  high  above  the  elevating  machin- 
ery and  the  storage  bins,  proved  that  the  fire  had  not  been  an  ac- 
cidental one.  Too,  the  depot  had  been  shut  down  at  midnight  and 
all  the  candles  extinguished.  In  any  case,  Gay  had  admitted  to 
Phelps  that  he  had  set  the  fire  with  a  match.  Experiments  con- 
ducted by  the  chemist,  Dr.  Desnoyers,  proved  that  the  match  would 
burn  for  several  hours,  as  Gay  said  it  had  done.  Van  Arman  had, 
nevertheless,  to  admit  that  it  had  not  been  proven  beyond  a  shadow 
of  a  doubt  that  the  depot  fire  had  not  been  an  accident,  for,  as 
he  explained,  "There  never  was  a  case  of  burning  where  the  proof 
was  certain  that  it  did  not  take  place  by  accident." 

Van  Dyke  and  Van  Arman  then  stoutly  defended  the  veracity 
of  Phelps  and  Wescott,  their  star  witnesses.  Of  Phelps,  Van  Arman 
said,  in  all  candor: 

He  is  either  the  most  execrable  villain  that  has  ever  appeared  in  mod- 
ern times,  either  the  vilest  and  most  abandoned  wretch  that  Providence 
has  ever  permitted  to  pollute  the  earth  ...  or  he  is  the  most  deeply 
wronged  man  on  the  face  of  the  earth.  If  he  has  deceived  us,  there  is  no 
penalty  too  heavy  for  his  crime. 


But  he  could  not  have  possibly  deceived  all  the  counsel  for  the 
state  as  well  as  Superintendent  Brooks  and  Mr.  Clark.  "You  must 
see,"  Van  Arman  argued,  "that  we  all  have  fully  believed  [him]  or 
we  had  not  dared  to  commence  these  proceedings."  The  prose- 
cution had  not,  moreover,  accepted  Phelps'  testimony,  crucial  as 
it  was,  without  corroboration.  Clark  and  Van  Arman  had  con- 
firmed Gay's  confessions,  and  an  independent  witness  had  been 
present  when  Phelps  had  been  "fixed  out"  for  burning  the  Niles 
Depot  at  Michigan  Centre  the  night  of  April  ii,  1851.  Nor  had 
Phelps'  testimony,  or  Wescott's,  been  shaken  on  cross-examination. 
Both  of  their  stories  were  so  long  and  so  complicated,  they  could 
not  have  possibly  been  fabricated,  and  the  defense's  attempts  to 
contradict  them  had  utterly  failed.  On  the  contrary,  it  was  the  de- 
fense witnesses  who  were  tainted  with  perjury.  Van  Arman  pointed 
out  that  Hawley  himself  had  confessed  to  that  crime,  and  added, 
"It  would  be  rashness  after  the  experience  we  have  had  of  the  skill 
and  resources  of  these  defendants  to  doubt  for  a  moment  that  they 
could  prove  anything  they  wish."  The  charge  that  Phelps,  Lake, 
and  Wescott  had  themselves  conspired  to  pin  the  crime  on  Fitch 
and  company  was  equally  baseless.  They  had  no  cause  to  injure 
Fitch;  they  were  indeed  his  friends  and  accepted  as  such  until 
exposed  as  railroad  agents.  Phelps  and  Wescott  could  not  have 
schemed  together,  for  they  had  not  been  acquainted  until  after  they 
had  made  their  separate  reports  to  Clark,  who  had  not  let  one  see 
the  other's  reports.  Phelps  and  Lake  could  not  have  made  the 
matches:  they  had  not  seen  one  until  Fitch  had  shown  them  one. 
The  log  of  whitewood  had  probably  been  planted  on  Phelps'  va- 
cated premises,  for  whatever  he  was,  Phelps  was  no  fool  who  would 
have  left  it  there  to  be  found  and  used  as  evidence  against  him. 

It  was  the  defendants  who  had  conspired,  prosecution  counsel 
contended,  to  destroy  the  property  of  the  railroad  and  who  had 
hired  Gay  to  burn  the  depot  in  Detroit.  There  was  no  doubt  that 
Fitch  knew  Gay  and  had  negotiated  with  him  in  the  summer  of 
1849.  Had  not  Gay  mentioned  his  name  and  that  of  others  at  the 
Centre?  Aaron  Mount,  one  of  the  defendants,  had,  according  to 
Lake,  admitted  being  associated  with  Gay  in  crime  and  had  brought 
Fitch  and  Gay  together.  Too,  Wescott  had  testified  that  he  had 
followed  Fitch  to  Gay's  house  in  Detroit  and  seen  him  enter  it. 

On  this  point,  the  prosecution  made  much  of  the  testimony  of 

[91  ] 

Dr.  James  A.  Hahn,  mayor  of  Marshall,  who  had  been  on  the  train 
that  had  brought  the  prisoners  to  Detroit.  According  to  Dr.  Hahn, 
Fitch  had  asked  to  see  the  warrant  for  his  arrest.  As  he  read  it,  he 
said  that  he  had  a  slight  acquaintance  with  Phelps  some  years  be- 
fore the  latter  had  gone  to  prison  but  since  then  had  had  little  to  do 
with  him.  Fitch  had  then  added  that  he  saw  that  he  was  charged 
with  being  an  accomplice  of  a  certain  Mr.  Gay,  but  that  he  did 
not  know  Gay  and  had  never  heard  of  him.  And  then,  after  a  pause, 
he  said,  "I  believe  that  old  Gay  has  turned  state's  evidence."  This 
last  remark.  Van  Dyke  insisted,  unquestionably  proved  that  the 
squire  of  Michigan  Centre  knew  the  bawdy-house  keeper  of 
Detroit;  otherwise,  why  should  Fitch  call  him  "old  Gay,"  and 
what  state's  evidence  was  there  to  turn. 

In  concluding  his  argument.  Van  Dyke  briefly  reviewed  the  evi- 
dence against  each  of  the  thirty-two  defendants.  Against  seventeen 
of  them,  he  admitted  that,  thoua:h  there  was  evidence  to  show  that 
they  were  involved  in  the  general  conspiracy  to  destroy  railroad 
property,  there  was  none  implicating  them  in  the  crime  of  burning 
the  depot.  He  said  he  would  be  satisfied  if  the  jury  acquitted  these 
and  told  them  "to  go  and  sin  no  more."  Against  three  of  the  de- 
fendants, the  evidence  was  doubtful,  and  the  jury  would  have  to 
consider  their  cases  carefully  and  then  decide  as  it  saw  fit.  Against 
twelve  of  them,  whom  he  named,  he  had  no  doubt  that  the  evi- 
dence was  strong  and  true  that  they  were  clearly  guilty  of  being 
accomplices  before  the  fact.  For  these,  he  demanded  a  conviction, 
so  that  history  might  record  the  fact  that  "a  firm  and  able  judge, 
an  intelligent  and  honest  jury,  unawed  by  fear  and  prejudice,  and 
unawed  by  threats,  vindicated  the  violated  law." 

In  their  closing  arguments,  Frink  and  Seward  denied  completely 
the  guilt  of  their  clients  and  tried  to  prove  that  there  was  no  basis 
in  fact  or  in  law  for  the  case  against  them.  The  charge  of  con- 
spiracy was  false  and  even  ludicrous.  The  criminal  acts  against 
railroad  property  in  Jackson  County  had  indeed  and  unfortunately 
been  committed,  but  they  were  "individual,  casual,  unpremed- 
itated crimes,"  in  which  it  was  proven  that  only  three  or  four  of 
the  defendants  had  been  involved  and  only  those  present  had  been 
implicated.  The  expressions  of  hostility  had  been  legitimate  indivi- 
dual opinions,  and  the  threats  uttered,  "individual,  impulsive, 
passionate,  but  idle."  All  the  meetings  cited  as  evidence  of  a  con- 

[92  ] 

spiracy  had  been  accidental,  not  preconcerted,  irregularly  and 
openly  held  in  the  public  barroom,  "open  to  all  comers,  whether 
village  gossips  or  travelers."  All  the  criminal  acts  and  gatherings 
had,  moreover,  taken  place  in  Jackson  County,  in  another  juris- 
diction, and  were  no  concern  of  the  jury  in  Wayne  County.  In  vain 
the  defense  had  opposed  the  admission  of  such  testimony  on  the 
ground  that  those  crimes,  even  if  committed  by  the  defendants, 
could  not  be  proven  under  the  present  indictment;  that  if  the  de- 
fendants did  or  did  not  burn  the  depot,  it  mattered  not  whether 
they  conspired  to  do  so.  The  prosecution  had  offered  this  mass  of 
evidence,  promising  to  prove  a  conspiracy  to  destroy  all  the  prop- 
erty of  the  railroad,  including  the  depot.  This  they  had  not  done. 
They  had  succeeded,  however,  Frink  charged,  in  their  design  "to 
subserve  the  same  unholy  purpose  of  the  declarations,  made  not 
only  in  the  streets,  and  in  public  journals,  but  in  the  presence  of 
this  court,  denouncing  in  advance,  as  outlaws,  and  as  their  per- 
jured abettors,  every  man  who  should  be  a  witness  for,  the  de- 

Seward  then  attacked  Wescott  and  his  testimony,  on  which  the 
charge  of  conspiracy  was  largely  based.  Wescott,  Seward  charged, 
who  had  told  of  the  alleged  declarations  made  to  him  by  the  de- 
fendants and  to  him  alone,  in  the  presence  of  no  one  else,  was  noth- 
ing but  a  "hireling  informer,"  of  dubious  repute,  a  coward,  with  a 
grudge  against  Fitch.  He  had  been  contradicted  in  many  parts  of 
his  story.  Most  of  the  remarks  he  attributed  to  the  defendants 
showed  nothing  more  than  hostility  to  the  railroad.  Wescott  tried 
to  supply  this  deficiency  by  adding  that  Fitch,  Filley,  and  Corwin 
had  called  themselves  "The  Leoni  Band";  that  Filley  had  angrily 
declared,  "Leoni  against  the  world";  that  other  Leonians  had  said 
to  him  that  they  were  banded  together  for  the  destruction  of  the 
road  unless  they  were  paid  for  their  cattle.  Seward  pointedly  asked: 

Do  you  not  see  how  admirably  this  testimony  is  adapted  to  the  exigen- 
cies of  the  prosecution?  I  imagine  I  hear  the  counsel.  Van  Arman,  say, 
wanted— proof  of  a  conspiracy.  Wescott:  They  called  themselves  the 
Leoni  Band.  .  .  Van  Arman:  Wanted— proof  that  the  band  was  banded 
together.  Wescott:  Fitch  said— we  are  banded  and  conspired  together 
against  the  railroad  company.  Van  Arman:  Wanted— proof  that  the  ob- 
ject of  the  conspiracy  was  the  destruction  of  the  railroad.  Wescott:  Fitch 
said,  we  are  banded  and  conspired  together  for  the  entire  destruction  of 
the  railroad.  .  .  . 

[93  ] 

Seward  then  reduced  to  absurdity  the  whole  notion  of  a  con- 

What  a  solemn  and  fearful  scene  that  must  have  been  when  these 
conspirators  threw  off  the  mask— "Leoni  against  the  world."  Where  and 
what  was  this  Leoni?  It  was  a  hamlet  among  the  oak  openings  of  Mich- 
igan. What  was  its  magnitude?  It  consisted  of  a  country  tavern,  a  store 
house,  a  school-house,  a  church,  a  dozen  humble  tenements.  Who  were 
the  members  of  this  band?  One  country  gentleman,  one  keeper  of  a 
tavern  and  ball-alley,  one  drinking  teamster,  one  backwoodsman,  and  one 
village  mason;  and  they  acted  their  parts  with  as  much  boldness,  and 
even  more,  than  the  clowns  in  the  interlude  in  Midsummer  Night's 
Dream.  For  when  Bottom  proposed  to  act  the  part  of  Lion,  he  was  over- 
ruled lest  he  might  roar  too  loudly,  and  so  "frighten  the  duchesses  and 
the  ladies."  No  such  timidity  distinguished  the  clowns  of  Leoni.  They 
proclaimed  themselves  the  unterrified— "Leoni  against  the  world." 

With  this,  he  mockingly  dismissed  the  witness:  "Adieu,  Mr. 
William  D.  Wescott." 

Coming  closer  to  the  heart  of  the  case,  Seward  blasted  the  evi- 
dence purporting  to  connect  the  defendants  with  Gay  in  the  burn- 
ing of  the  depot.  In  the  first  place,  at  least  nineteen  of  the  defend- 
ants had  not  been  shown  to  have  had  any  connection  with  Gay. 
Against  the  rest,  there  were  only  the  reported  admissions  by  Gay 
and  the  defendants  themselves,  "the  most  uncertain  and  unsat- 
isfactory of  all  testimony,"  because  it  consisted  of  mere  repetition 
of  oral  statements  of  others,  liable  to  be  misunderstood  or  in- 
correctly heard  or  reported.  All  the  alleged  declarations  and  admis- 
sions, Seward  insinuated,  bore  the  mark  of  falsehood,  for  they  were 
all  couched  in  the  language  of  the  witnesses  who  reported  them. 
It  reminded  one  of  the  "Grecian  oracles"  or  the  "Rochester  rap- 
pings,"  where  the  ghosts  "were  learned  in  the  languages  of  the 

Such  admissions,  moreover,  meant  nothing  in  the  face  of  the 
fact  that  the  crime  could  not  have  been  committed  in  the  manner 
supposedly  confessed.  The  match  as  described  by  Phelps  would 
not  burn.  It  could  not  have  burst  into  flame  several  hours  after  it 
had  been  lighted  in  Gay's  house  and  then  carried  through  the 
streets  in  a  covered  box.  Even  if  it  had,  Gay  could  not  have  de- 
posited it  unseen  in  the  cupola  at  7  or  8  p.m.,  as  he  reportedly 
said  he  did,  with  the  guards  and  employees  busy  all  about  the 
depot.  Why  had  no  one  seen  Gay?  Why  had  the  prosecution  not 


brought  Gay's  wife  to  testify  that  he  had  left  his  home  with  the 
match  that  evening?  Why  had  they  spirited  her  away?  Nor  had 
it  been  proven  beyond  a  reasonable  doubt  that  the  fire  had  been 
incendiary  and  not  accidental.  Even  if  it  had  first  been  seen  in  the 
cupola,  as  the  prosecution  contended,  that  still  did  not  prove  it 
had  not  been  accidental. 

More  important,  Seward  continued,  it  had  not  been  incontro- 
vertibly  established  that  any  of  the  defendants  actually  knew  Gay. 
Fitch  had  not  been  in  Detroit  in  the  summer  of  1849.  Wescott's 
testimony  that  he  had  followed  Fitch  to  Gay's  house  early  in  1851 
had  been  contradicted  by  witnesses  who  had  been  in  Fitch's  com- 
pany all  the  time  he  was  in  the  city.  The  meeting  Wescott  referred 
to  had,  in  any  case,  taken  place  after  the  fire.  As  for  Dr.  Hahn's 
testimony  about  Fitch's  remarks  on  the  train  after  the  arrests.  Fitch 
certainly  was  truthful  in  denying  all  knowledge  of  Gay  before  the 
arrests.  After  the  arrests  and  after  he  had  read  the  warrant,  "old 
Gay's"  name  must  have  become  as  "familiar  as  household  words." 
No  evidence  had  been  brought  to  show  that  Fitch  had  ever  nego- 
tiated with  Gay  to  undertake  the  crime.  When  and  where  had  this 
been  done?  Fitch  was  dogged  by  spies  and  certainly  any  meeting  be- 
t\veen  him  and  Gay  would  not  have  remained  unknown.  Ab- 
solutely no  proof  had  been  offered  that  any  of  the  defendants  had 
made  the  match  and  then  delivered  it  to  Gay,  or  that  any  payment 
had  ever  been  made  for  the  crime.  Had  all  this  been  done  by  mes- 
senger or  correspondence?  Why  had  not  Phelps  testified  to  any 
of  these  crucial  transactions?  Why  had  not  the  defendants  revealed 
these  important  matters  to  Phelps  and  the  other  spies  as  they  had 
the  other  details  of  their  crime? 

The  charge  that  the  defendants  had  hired  Gay  to  burn  the  depot 
rested  entirely  on  admissions,  that  is,  on  what  Phelps  and  Lake  said 
Gay  and  Fitch  and  others  had  told  them.  And  Phelps  and  Lake 
and  Gay  were  utterly  unworthy  of  credit.  Gay,  Seward  specified,  was 

a  man  .  .  .  who  had  been  convicted  of  more  than  twenty  crimes,  ranging 
from  petit  larceny  to  murder  .  .  .,  a  man  who  lived  in  daily  association 
with  culprits,  and  who  at  the  time  kept  a  house  of  ill-fame,  and  thus 
subsisted  by  the  debasement  of  one  sex,  while  he  harbored  the  most 
depraved  of  the  other. 

His  purported  admissions  as  to  the  complicity  of  the  defendants  in 
the  crime,  moreover,  were  not  admissible  as  evidence.  Gay  was 

[95  ] 

dead  and  no  longer  on  trial.  As  a  principal,  his  admissions  could 
not  be  evidence  against  his  accessories  until  he  himself  had  first 
been  convicted.  Hence,  Frink  argued,  the  whole  trial  had  been 
invalidated  on  the  technical  ground  that  Gay  had  not  been  found 
guilty  and  the  indictment  of  accessories  alone  must  charge  the 
ofEense  in  substantive  language  and  not  in  a  dependent  manner. 
Seward  did  not  go  along  with  his  colleague  in  charging  a  mistrial. 
He  merely  contended  that  the  testimony  of  Gay's  declarations  had 
been  allowed  to  come  in  unadvisedly,  on  a  promise  by  the  prose- 
cution that  had  not  been  kept,  and  should  therefore  now  be 
stricken  from  the  record. 

As  for  Phelps  and  Lake,  both  were  convicted  criminals.  Phelps 
had,  in  addition,  been  impeached  by  over  a  hundred  witnesses. 
The  witnesses  brought  by  the  prosecution  to  uphold  his  reputation 
had  not  destroyed  that  impeachment.  Some  of  them  knew  nothing 
of  Phelps'  character  after  1842,  and  all  of  them  without  exception, 
when  testifying  favorably  as  to  his  reputation,  had  declared  "not 
that  they  [had]  heard  it  discussed  and  then  pronounced  good,  but 
simply  that  they  [had]  not  heard  it  discussed  at  all .  .  ."  And  by  the 
very  neighbors  who  had  come  into  court  and  said  that  his  character 
and  reputation  were  bad! 

"I  ask  you  now  to  consider,"  Seward  reminded  the  jury, 

the  circumstances  under  which  [Phelps]  appears.  He  testifies  under  the 
impulse  of  an  overpowering  necessity.  A  stipend  of  $40  a  month  as  an 
informer  is  his  only  resource  for  support.  .  .  His  fortune  involves  two 
alternatives;  one  that  he  carry  the  prosecution  through  and  cause  these 
defendants  to  be  sent  to  the  State  Prison  and  thus  establish  a  claim  to 
be  restored  to  that  social  confidence  which  he  so  early  lost;  the  other  that 
he  shall  be  convicted  of  wilful  and  malicious  conspiracy  against  these 
defendants  with  perjury  and  subornation  of  perjury,  and  return,  after  a 
guilty  respite  of  two  years  and  six  months  to  the  State  Prison  whence  he 

Phelps  was  motivated,  besides,  by  an  "impulse  of  a  studiously  con- 
cealed but  malevolent  and  persevering  revenge  against  Abel  F. 
Fitch,  who  was  originally  the  chief  mark  of  this  fearful  prosecu- 
tion .  .  ."  Vehemently,  Seward  dismissed  the  state's  star  witness: 
"Enough  then  for  Henry  Phelps.  'Room  for  the  leper!  Room!'  " 

Phelps'  testimony,  Seward  also  pointed  out,  had  been  contra- 
dicted again  and  again  in  its  circumstantial  details  by  many  wit- 
nesses. He  had  testified  to  appointed  meetings  with  Fitch  in  Mich- 

[96  ] 

igan  Centre  and  in  Detroit,  in  which  the  latter  had  allegedly  talked 
of  his  great  success  in  burning  the  depot,  and  asked  Phelps  to  burn 
the  Niles  depot  and  engage  in  counterfeiting.  Witnesses,  however, 
had  merely  heard  Phelps  and  Fitch  converse  about  such  common- 
place subjects,  as  Fitch's  twin  oxen  or  where  fish  and  provisions 
could  be  bought  in  Detroit.  The  imputation  was  clear  that  Phelps 
had  simulated  a  close  acquaintance  with  Fitch  under  various 
pretexts,  reporting  the  while  a  farrago  of  incriminating  admissions, 
of  which  the  witnesses  had  heard  nothing.  There  was,  too,  a  sus- 
picious identity  in  the  language  of  the  admissions  reported  by 
Phelps  and  Lake,  an  identity  "as  harmonious  as  in  the  ritual  of  a 
Free  Mason's  Lodge  or  in  the  liturgy  of  the  Episcopal  Church,"  and 
which  smacked  of  their  sinister  purpose  and  falsity. 

The  whole  case,  the  defense  reiterated  in  conclusion,  was  a  false 
and  diabolical  conspiracy  by  Phelps  and  his  accomplices.  The 
motives  of  the  conspirators  were  hatred  of  Fitch  and  the  hope  of 
sharing  the  large  reward  offered  by  the  railroad  company.  To  this 
end,  the  three  testified  falsely  that  Fitch  and  the  others  from  Leoni 
had  admitted  hiring  Gay  to  burn  the  depot.  Phelps  and  Lake  had 
made  the  matches  themselves  and  pretended  to  have  received  them 
from  Fitch.  They  had  brought  a  match  themselves  to  Michigan 
Centre  the  day  they  left  to  burn  the  Niles  depot.  They  had  given 
a  match  to  Gay  so  that  Clark  and  Van  Arman  could  see  it  in  his 
possession.  Phelps  had  induced  Gay  to  admit  that  he  had  burned 
the  depot,  and  the  latter  was  precisely  the  kind  to  confess  to  a  crime 
on  the  promise  of  immunity  and  a  share  of  the  reward.  Or  Gay  had 
perhaps  been  duped  by  Phelps  and  had  been  arrested  to  keep  him 
from  testifying.  The  conversations  between  Gay  and  Phelps,  re- 
ported on  the  witness  stand  by  the  latter,  showed  that  some  such 
conspiracy  had  been  in  the  minds  of  the  two.  Phelps  had  testified 
that  he  had  met  Gay  in  Detroit  in  the  Palo  Alto  saloon  shortly  after 
the  depot  fire.  The  two  had  discussed  a  scheme  to  free  a  mutual 
friend  who  was  in  jail  for  counterfeiting.  They  were  to  burn  the 
railroad  depot,  get  witnesses  to  swear  the  crime  on  some  third  per- 
son they  disliked,  and  then  have  their  friend  in  jail  inform  against 
the  hapless  victim.  Their  friend  would  as  a  result  be  freed  and 
all  three  would  share  the  reward  received  from  the  railroad  com- 
pany. Phelps  had  then  suggested  that  the  plot  to  free  their  friend 
be  based  on  the  fire  that  had  already  taken  place  rather  than  on 

[97  ] 

some  future  one.  These  conversations,  Phelps  had  revealed  in 
court,  had  gone  on  over  a  period  of  weeks,  and  it  was  in  the  course 
of  them  that  Gay  had  admitted  that  he  burnt  the  old  depot. 
"What,"  Seward  asked  after  repeating  Phelps'  story,  "what  are  all 
the  pretended  admissions  of  Gay  and  Fitch  now  produced  here  but 
the  fabrications  thus  early  foreshadowed?" 

Seward  then  referred  to  Prosecuting  Attorney  Stuart's  plea  that 
Erastus  Smith  be  acquitted,  as  further  proof  of  the  existence  of  a 
conspiracy.  Smith  was  one  of  the  defendants,  a  Detroit  friend  of 
Gay's,  who,  according  to  Phelps,  had  admitted  knowing  of  the  plan 
to  burn  the  depot  and  receiving  part  of  the  $150  Fitch  had  paid 
for  the  crime.  Now,  Stuart  in  his  closing  argument  had  asked  for 
the  acquittal  of  Smith  on  the  grounds  that  he  had  been  seduced  by 
Phelps  into  falsely  admitting  his  complicity  in  a  crime  of  which 
he  had  no  knowledge.  "When  I  heard  [Stuart]  submit  this  extra- 
ordinary proposition,"  Seward  triumphantly  declared, 

I  thanked  God  and  took  courage.  It  revealed  the  secret  of  this  entire 
prosecution.  It  showed  that  Smith  had  been  fraudulently  made  a  defend- 
ant that  he  might  utter  without  oath,  false  allegations  to  convict  the 
defendants  at  Michigan  Centre,  under  an  assurance  that  he  should  be 
acquitted  himself.  And  now,  gentlemen,  since  Smith's  allegations  are 
admitted  to  be  false,  are  Gay's  averments,  made  under  the  same  circum- 
stances, true?  ...  If  Smith  was  seduced  so  easily  by  Phelps,  Gay  had 
even  less  virtue  to  resist  his  seduction.  I  declare,  gentlemen,  my  profound 
conviction  that  the  whole  prosecution  was  conceived  in  fraud;  that  George 
W.  Gay  never  burned  the  depot;  that  he  and  Smith  falsely  accused  them- 
selves of  that  crime  under  a  promise  from  Phelps  to  share  in  the  reward 
of  a  conviction  of  the  defendants  .  .  .  ;  and  that  Gay,  if  he  had  lived  to 
go  through  a  trial  and  conviction,  would  have  been  recommended  for  a 
pardon,  and  would  have  shared  that  reward. 

Seward,  in  brief,  charged  that  Smith  was  a  partner  to  the  conspir- 
acy, an  accomplice  of  Phelps  in  the  plot  to  convict  the  defendants, 
and  that  Stuart's  plea  for  Smith's  acquittal  proved  that  charge. 
Van  Dyke,  too,  must  have  thought  that  Stuart's  plea  was  a  mistake 
for,  in  closing  for  the  prosecution,  he  ignored  it  and  asked  for 
Smith's  conviction  along  with  the  rest. 

After  the  counsel  had  concluded  their  arguments.  Judge  Wing 
delivered  his  charge  to  the  jury.  He  reviewed  the  history  of  the 
case,  but  forebore  to  summarize  the  evidence,  referring  the  jury 
to  the  printed  transcript  that  was  made  available  to  them.  He 

[98  ] 

lectured  them  with  all  the  usual  admonitions  to  impartiality  and 
spelled  out  the  usual  legal  precepts  that  were  to  guide  them.  On 
the  technical  questions  raised  by  counsel  in  the  course  of  the  trial, 
he  ruled  against  the  defense.  He  admitted  that,  in  law,  Gay's  de- 
clarations were  evidence  neither  of  his  guilt  or  that  of  his  ac- 
complices. The  defense  had  erred,  however,  in  waiting  too  long  to 
object  to  them  and  it  was  now  too  late  to  strike  them  out.  Pre- 
sumably, the  defense  should  have  objected  when  the  declarations 
had  been  first  introduced  in  evidence  after  Gay's  death.  The  testi- 
mony of  \Volliver  and  other  railroad  spies  who  were  clearly  ac- 
complices in  some  of  the  crimes  committed  in  Jackson  County  was 
valid,  because  they  had  dissociated  themselves  from  the  defendants 
some  time  before  the  arrests.  As  to  the  impeachment  of  Phelps, 
Judge  Wing  told  the  jury  that  any  evidence  of  his  reputation  for 
truth  based  on  what  was  said  of  his  testimony  at  the  trial  was  not 
admissible.  Further,  if  some  witnesses  said  they  had  not  heard 
Phelps'  reputation  discussed  at  all,  nothing  could  more  clearly 
uphold  and  establish  it.  Finally,  the  judge  warned  the  jury  to 
ignore  the  counsel's  appeals  to  their  emotions.  If  the  Michigan 
Central  Railroad  were  indeed  a  monopoly  buying  up  judges  and 
juries,  that  fact  ought  to  have  nothing  to  do  with  the  decision  in 
this  case.  "Large  interests  are  dependent  on  your  verdict,"  Wing 
reminded  the  jury,  only  to  ask  them  to  dimiss  that  consideration 
from  their  minds.  He  emphasized  that  no  thought  of  the  conse- 
quences must  be  allowed  to  influence  their  verdict,  which  must  be 
one  they  could  reasonably  arrive  at  on  the  basis  of  the  evidence 
and  not  one  of  whose  truth  they  would  have  to  swear. 

On  September  25,  at  11:30  a.m.,  the  case  went  to  the  jury.  The 
jurors,  according  to  one  report,  started  their  deliberations  with 
prayer,  at  the  suggestion  of  one  of  their  number  who  found  himself 
bewildered  by  the  impenetrable  jungle  of  conflicting  evidence 
and  dismayed  by  the  importance  of  the  case.  That  evening,  more 
than  nine  hours  later,  the  jury  returned  with  a  verdict.  It  found 
twelve  of  the  defendants  guilty  as  charged  and  exonerated  the  re- 
maining twenty,  recommending  two  of  the  guilty  ones,  Erastus 
Smith  and  Dr.  Ebenezer  Farnham,  to  the  mercy  of  the  court.  The 
next  morning,  the  prisoners,  surrounded  by  their  families,  were 
brought  into  court  to  be  sentenced.  Their  lawyers,  in  a  last-ditch 
maneuver,  moved  for  a  new  trial  and  for  suspension  of  sentence 


for  a  short  time,  but  both  motions  were  overruled.  Judge  Wing 
then  asked  the  guilty  defendants  why  sentence  should  not  be  passed 
on  them.  Some  arose  and  protested  their  innocence.  The  judge  in 
turn  lectured  them  severely  on  their  crime  and  pronounced  sen- 
tence. Ammi  Filley  and  Orlando  Williams  received  ten  years  at 
hard  labor  in  the  state's  prison  at  Jackson.  William  Corwin,  Eben 
and  Richard  Price,  Andrew  J.  Freeland,  Dr.  Ebenezer  Farnham, 
and  Aaron  Mount  were  sentenced  to  eight  years  each,  and  the  three 
Champlin  brothers,  Lyman,  Erastus,  and  Willard,  and  Erastus 
Smith,  to  five  years  each.  All  twelve  were  then  taken  to  Jackson 
prison  by  a  special  train  provided  by  the  Michigan  Central  Rail- 

The  verdict  was  received  by  the  Detroit  press  with  gratitude 
that  the  city's  reputation  as  a  "Christian  community"  had  been 
upheld  against  the  attacks  of  base  criminals.  In  Jackson,  Editor 
De  Land,  in  the  Citizen,  expressed  his  surprise  and,  he  believed, 
that  of  the  entire  community.  He  felt  that  truth  and  justice  had 
been  "cheated  of  their  prey,"  that  the  wrong  men  had  been  con- 
victed. In  explanation,  he  could  only  conclude  that  not  even 
"great  legal  talent  could  prevail  against  adverse  public  opinion 
backed  by  the  almost . . .  almighty  power  of  a  monied  corporation." 
And  he  later  cited  the  Ypsilanti  Sentinel,  the  Jonesville  T.elegraph, 
and  the  Battle  Creek  Journal  as  sharing  his  opinion.^^ 

At  this  distance  in  time,  it  matters  little  whether  the  defendants 
were  guilty  or  not.  It  is  more  important  to  view  the  trial  as  an 
example  of  the  way  in  which  the  railroad  company  moved  to  de- 
fend itself  against  its  enemies.  The  company  officials  urgently 
needed  and  were  determined  at  all  costs  to  secure  a  conviction 
in  order  to  halt  the  attacks  on  the  trains  in  Leoni  and  Grass  Lake 
townships.  That  conviction,  they  were  certain,  could  not  have  been 
gotten  in  Jackson  County  in  the  face  of  a  hostile  public  opinion. 
After  the  depot  burned  and  Phelps  presented  them  with  evidence 
that  the  Leonians  were  responsible  for  the  fire.  Brooks,  Joy,  and 
Clark  eagerly  seized  the  opportunity  to  try  the  road's  enemies  in 
another,  more  friendly  jurisdiction.  With  a  largely  favorable  press 
and  public  opinion,  they  pushed  their  advantage  to  the  limit.  The 
prosecution  lawyers  successfully  appealed  to  the  patriotism  and 
sense  of  social  order  of  the  jury  of  Detroit  businessmen  and  poli- 
ticians and  convinced  them  that  the  defendants,  who  were  clearly 

[  100  ] 

guilty  o£  criminal  offenses  in  Jackson  County,  could  reasonably  be 
presumed  to  have  burnt  the  depot  in  Detroit.  The  whole  trial  thus 
seems  to  have  been  part  of  a  larger  conflict  of  force  between  the 
Michigan  Central  and  the  farmers  of  Jackson  County  rather  than 
a  legal  action  of  the  people  of  the  state  of  Michigan  against  some 
criminals  who  had  burnt  down  a  building.  And  the  triumph  of 
the  company  was  signalized  when  Joy,  after  having  paid  Van  Dyke 
and  Van  Arman  $2,000  each  for  their  services,  and  lesser  sums  to  the 
other  lawyers,  rewarded  Prosecuting  Attorney  Stuart  with  the  sum 
of  $500  for  his  services  to  the  state.^^ 

The  feelinsf  will  not  down,  nevertheless,  that  the  defendants 
had  not  burnt  the  depot.  To  a  layman  unversed  in  the  law,  it 
seems  that  the  voluminous  and  conflicting  evidence  does  not  prove 
beyond  a  reasonable  doubt  that  Fitch  and  company  were  guilty 
of  the  crime  with  which  they  were  charged.  And  subsequent  events, 
too,  raise  some  doubts  about  the  justice  of  the  jury's  decision. 

Four  months  after  the  trial,  in  January,  1852,  the  Michigan 
Central  shops  in  Detroit  were  destroyed  by  fire,  and  two  years  after 
that,  the  passenger  offices  also  burnt  down.  These  later  fires  were 
undoubtedly  accidents,  contingent  hazards  of  the  early  days  of 
railroad  operations.  Was  it  not  likely  that  the  earlier  fire  in  the 
freight  depot  was  of  similar  origin  and  that  no  crime  had  been 
committed  at  all?  ^'^ 

Almost  two  years  after  the  trial,  Erastus  Smith,  one  of  the  con- 
victed defendants,  was  pardoned  and  after  his  release,  made  out 
an  affidavit,  which  was  published  in  Burnett's  Grass  Lake  news- 
paper, in  which  he  revealed  in  great  detail  his  relations  with  Phelps 
before  the  aiTests.  Smith  affirmed  that  he  had  been  duped  by  Phelps 
and  had  had  no  connection  with  the  burning  of  the  depot.  He 
declared  that  Phelps  had  approached  him  many  times  to  swear 
falsely  and  involve  Fitch  and  the  others  in  the  crime.  Phelps  had 
also  suggested  that  the  two  of  them  go  to  Michigan  Centre  and  talk 
to  the  boys  at  Filley's  tavern  "about  something,  no  matter  what," 
while  he,  Phelps,  would  take  notes.  Thus,  the  arch-plotter  craftily 
argued,  "one  of  us  could  talk  and  the  others  could  swear  that  they 
saw  it,  and  in  this  way,  we  can  back  one  another  up."  When  Smith 
refused  to  go  along,  insisting  that  he  was  "not  smart  enough  to  go 
into  such  an  operation  as  that,"  Phelps  retorted,  "God  damn  it, 
you  are  smart  enough  to  tell  a  story  and  stick  to  it,"  adding  that 

[  101  ] 

that  was  all  Smith  had  to  do.  He,  Phelps,  would  make  the  state- 
ments and  write  them  down  and  Smith  would  swear  to  them. 
Smith  still  refused,  but  was  present  at  a  meeting  with  Gay  when 
when  the  latter  agreed  to  go  into  the  scheme  with  Phelps.  Later, 
he  received  other  propositions  from  Phelps,  such  as  to  pass  counter- 
feit money,  but  declined  these  too.  The  next  thing  he  knew  he  was 
arrested  with  Gay.  The  clear  implication  of  Smith's  whole  story 
was  that  Phelps  had  turned  on  him  when  he  had  refused  to  join  the 
conspiracy  and  had  had  him  arrested  so  that  he  could  not  reveal 
the  sordid  details  of  the  plot  on  the  witness  stand.  It  is,  of  course, 
possible  that  Smith  concocted  this  version  of  his  relations  with 
Phelps  to  put  his  own  role  in  the  best  possible  light,  and  present 
himself  as  a  victim  rather  than  an  accomplice  of  Phelps,  as  Seward 
had  suggested  in  his  closing  address.  Whatever  Smith's  role,  it  is 
not  unreasonable  to  suspect  that  Phelps  had  been  guilty  of  perjury 
and  subornation  of  prejury  as  part  of  his  plot  to  swear  the  Leoni 
people  to  jail. ^8 

In  a  broader  sense,  all  the  actions  of  the  railroad  company  in  this 
savage  conflict  may  perhaps  be  understood  more  clearly  in  the 
light  of  contemporary  business  policy.  Superintendent  Brooks  con- 
ceived the  role  of  the  company  as  one  of  pioneer  development 
in  a  new  land  involving  risks  for  which  the  investors  were  to  be 
duly  paid.  He  and  his  advisors  accepted  no  broad  social  responsi- 
bility other  than  the  efficient  and  profitable  transportation  of  peo- 
ple and  goods.  The  public  as  consumer  or  shipper  or  as  voter  en- 
tered little  into  any  considerations  of  policy.  The  result  was  a 
shortsighted  ruthlessness  that  accorded  ill  with  the  populist  Amer- 
ican ethos  and  inevitably  brought  heated  protest,  which  Super- 
intendent Brooks  felt  justified  in  ignoring.  Not  until  the  company 
felt  that  its  strategic  position  in  the  state  legislature  as  against 
rival  pressure  groups  was  threatened,  did  it  act  to  turn  aside  and 
blunt  the  edge  of  protest.  It  thus  received  its  first  limited  lesson  in 
the  conduct  of  public  relations,  a  subject  in  which  American  in- 
dustry was  to  undergo  a  long  and  expensive  process  of  education. 
The  Michigan  Central  in  the  1850's  faced  only  its  worried  political 
henchmen  who  advised  it  to  mollify  public  sentiment  if  continued 
favorable  legislative  action  was  expected.  Later  American  corpora- 
tions were  to  face  continuous  bureaucratic  regulation  by  self-acting 
defenders  of  the  public  interest  brought  into  being  by  the  clamor 

[  102  ] 

of  a  mass  electorate.  American  industry  today  has,  in  response, 
evolved  in  its  publicity  a  rationale  of  social  utility  designed  to 
minimize  postive  regulation.  The  Michigan  Central,  attacked  by 
a  combination  of  antimonopoly  opinion  and  rival  railroads,  had 
to  backtrack  on  its  intransigeance  and  resort  to  conciliation  in 
order  to  protect  its  favored  economic  and  political  position  in  the 

In  Jackson  County,  outraged  feelings  and  political  strategy 
combined  to  keep  alive  the  animus  against  the  Michigan  Central. 
The  Whig  American  Citizen  kept  sniping  at  Brooks  and  the  rail- 
road and  their  political  allies.  Whatever  the  specific  occasion, 
whether  attacking  the  company's  political  influence  or  bringing 
charges  of  monopoly,  it  lost  no  chance  to  drag  in  the  fate  of  the 
convicted  twelve  and  the  martyred  Fitch.  Once,  it  concluded  a  re- 
port of  a  train  crash  in  which  many  westbound  immigrants  had 
been  killed  with  the  reminder  that  other  victims  of  the  company's 
greed  and  overweening  lust  for  power  were  also  languishing  in 
state's  prison.  Local  excitement  and  hatred  flared  up  to  a  new  in- 
tensity late  in  1852  around  the  person  of  Henry  Phelps,  who  made 
the  mistake  of  showing  his  face  in  Jackson  County.  While  visiting 
friends  in  Grass  Lake,  he  was  arrested  on  a  warrant  sworn  out  by 
the  indefatigable  Burnett  and  charged  with  conspiracy  to  convict 
the  men  of  Leoni.  In  the  face  of  a  loud  clamor  to  jail  the  traitor 
and  informer,  the  railroad  station  agent  at  Jackson  hired  a  lawyer 
to  defend  him,  reporting  to  Detroit  that  "all  Leoni  and  Michigan 
Centre  is  after  [Phelps],"  and  asking  if  the  company  wished  to 
undertake  the  defense.  The  company  evidently  did,  for  it  supplied 
the  heavy  bail  of  $5,000  fixed  by  the  local  justice,  "a  hot  anti  Rail 
Road  man,"  according  to  the  agent.  The  Jackson  County  grand 
jury  indicted  Phelps  for  conspiracy  and  the  trial  was  set  for  March, 
1853.  When  the  case  came  up,  the  company  exerted  itself  to  get 
its  employee  off.  Phelps'  lawyer  asked  for  a  change  of  venue  to  an- 
other county.  The  judge,  after  some  hesitation  based  on  his  fear 
of  the  public  reaction,  was  prevailed  upon  to  grant  the  motion 
and  the  case  was  transformed  to  Washtenaw  County.  Then,  the 
prosecuting  attorney  for  Jackson  County,  Austin  Blair,  was  per- 
suaded "to  slide  the  whole  thing  by  quietly"  by  Moses  A.  Mc- 
Naughton,  a  Free  Soil  state  senator  from  Jackson,  acting  on  behalf 
of  the  railroad.  McNaughton,  in  reporting  on  the  negotiations  to 

[  103  ] 

Joy  in  Detroit,  explained  that  Blair  was  honest  and  could  not  be 
bribed,  but  since  "his  ambition  far  exceeded  his  avarice  .  .  .,"  he 
could  be  appealed  to  on  that  basis.  Blair  obligingly  dropped  the 
case  against  Phelps  on  the  ground  that  the  indictment  was  tech- 
nically deficient,  and  the  latter  was  for  the  moment  safe  from  the 
toils  of  his  enemies.  A  year  later.  Van  Dyke  advised  Joy  that  Phelps 
had  better  disappear  from  the  Michigan  scene  altogether,  at  least 
long  enough  for  the  statute  of  limitations  to  operate,  because 
otherwise,  the  "Jackson  County  patriots"  would  continue  to  hound 
him  and  the  company  would  be  put  to  great  expense  to  protect 

"Has  anyone  sounded  Burnett  as  to  whether  he  can  be  induced 
to  haul  off?"  McNaughton  had  asked  Joy  in  exasperation  while 
arranging  for  Phelps'  rescue.  For  it  was  the  irrepressible  lawyer 
from  Grass  Lake  who  had  emerged  as  Fitch's  successor  as  the  gadfly 
of  the  opposition  to  the  railroad  in  Jackson  County.  After  his 
acquittal  in  the  trial,  Burnett  had  seemingly  taken  a  vow  of 
eternal  hostility  to  the  Michigan  Central  and  its  officials  for  what 
he  felt  was  their  baseless  persecution  of  innocent  men  and  devoted 
himself  to  proving  that  justice  had  miscarried.  It  was  he  who  had 
hounded  Phelps  with  arrest.  And  in  January,  1853,  he  changed  his 
vocation  and  embarked  on  a  career  as  publisher  and  editor  of  a 
fortnightly  newspaper,  Public  Sentiment,  dedicated  to  the  cause 
of  his  comrades  who  were  still  in  jail.  "Five  months  imprisonment," 
he  declared,  "has  given  us  a  keen  and  fiery  disposition,"  and  every 
issue  of  the  paper,  which  appeared  for  more  than  a  year,  was  filled 
with  slashing  attacks  on  the  railroad  company  and  everybody  con- 
nected with  the  trial.  As  the  self-proclaimed  defender  of  justice, 
Burnett  charged  that  the  great  railroad  conspiracy  was  in  fact  a 
conspiracy  against  the  men  of  Leoni  for  a  crime  which  was  never 
committed;  that  the  company's  agents  and  spies  had  been  guilty 
of  kidnapping,  arson,  and  perjury  as  well  as  conspiracy;  that  Sup- 
erintendent Brooks  knew  that  Phelps'  testimony  about  the  burning 
of  the  depot  was  false  and  paid  for  in  "railroad  gold";  and  that 
Fitch  had  been  murdered  under  color  of  law  at  the  instigation 
and  by  the  agency  of  the  Michigan  Central.  To  support  his  charges, 
Burnett  reviewed  and  analyzed  the  evidence  brought  out  at  the 
trial  with  his  sharp  lawyer's  mind  and  published  new  damaging 
evidence  and  displayed  altogether,  as  one  contemporary  later  re- 

[  104  ] 

membered,  "an  acumen,  audacity,  and  mendacity  that  astonished 
the  bench  and  bar  of  the  whole  state."  Fearless  and  even  reckless 
in  his  exposures  of  the  alleged  machinations  of  Brooks  and  Stuart, 
he  was  threatened  wath  a  libel  suit  but  managed  to  stay  clear  of 
the  law.  In  addition,  Burnett  struck  out  at  the  railroad  as  a  mo- 
nopoly whose  persecution  of  its  opponents  was  only  part  of  a 
general  policy  of  ruthless  exploitation  of  the  people  of  Michigan. 
Any  action  against  the  company,  any  expression  of  hostility  any- 
where in  the  state,  found  a  place  in  Public  Sentiment  alongside  of 
his  own  highly  vituperative  excoriations.  To  some,  like  the  editor 
of  the  American  Citizen,  it  seemed  that  Burnett  had  gone  too  far. 
De  Land,  for  all  his  sympathy  for  the  cause,  editorially  rebuked 
his  colleague  from  Grass  Lake  for  reflecting  unjustly  on  the  reputa- 
tion of  individuals,  even  hinting  that  he  was  close  to  blackmail, 
and  in  August,  1854,  obligingly  reported  that  Public  Sentiment 
had  ceased  publication.^^ 

One  of  Burnett's  chief  aims  in  his  foray  into  journalism  had 
been  to  win  a  pardon  for  the  convicted  "conspirators"  who  were 
serving  their  terms  in  Jackson  prison.  And  despite  or  even  because 
of  his  dogmatic  one-tracked  sensationalism,  he  did  perhaps  as 
much  as  anyone  to  bring  about  this  end.  There  had  been  some 
sentiment  for  a  pardon  right  after  the  trial,  but  nothing  came  of  it. 
Superintendent  Brooks  was  reported  as  saying  that  "it  had  cost 
$50,000  to  convict  these  men  and  that  he  would  not  consent  that 
the  governor  should  pardon  a  single  man."  As  the  issue  was  thrown 
into  the  political  pond  and  spread  wide  circles  of  antirailroad 
sentiment,  the  company's  officials  became  more  seriously  concerned 
with  the  matter.  In  the  gubernatorial  election  campaign  of  1851, 
the  Whigs  and  the  Democrats  charged  each  other's  candidates  with 
promising,  if  elected,  to  pardon  the  "conspirators,"  and  with 
posing  as  railroad  men  in  Detroit  and  antirailroad  men  in  Jackson 
County.  The  incumbent  Democrat  won  the  election,  but  Town- 
send  E.  Gidley,  the  Whig  candidate  who  lived  in  Jackson  County, 
won  his  home  county,  solely  because  the  voters  in  Leoni  and  Grass 
Lake  townships,  who  had  the  year  before  given  the  Democrats 
small  majorities,  now  turned  on  the  railroad-dominated  admini- 
stration and  gave  large  majorities  to  the  Whigs.^i 

The  next  year,  in  the  First  Congressional  District,  which  in- 
cluded Wayne,  Livingston,  Washtenaw,  and  Jackson  counties, 

[  105  ] 

David  Stuart,  Democrat,  opposed  William  A.  Howard,  Whig.  As 
far  as  Jackson  County  was  concerned,  the  contest  was  one  between 
the  prosecuting  attorney  who  had  sent  the  innocent  "conspirators" 
to  jail  and  the  man  who  had  courageously  defended  them.  Ac- 
cording to  the  American  Citizen,  it  had  been  necessary  to  offer 
large  sums  of  money  "to  conciliate  the  opposition  of  certain  prom- 
inent democrats  in  this  county  to  Stuart."  Stuart  realized  his  handi- 
cap and  worked  hard  to  overcome  it.  He  signed,  in  company  with 
prominent  local  citizens,  a  petition  to  the  governor  for  the  pardon 
of  the  prisoners.  He  personally  tried  to  mollify  the  antirailroad 
men.  He  visited  Benjamin  F.  Gleason,  one  of  the  defendants  who 
had  been  acquitted,  and  who  was  a  Democrat,  and  asked  him  to 
vote  for  him  and  tell  others  to  do  so.  Stuart  argued  that  it  was  he 
(Stuart)  that  had  secured  the  acquittal  of  some  of  the  "conspir- 
ators" and  now  sought  a  pardon  for  the  rest.  He  promised  Gleason 
a  job  with  the  state.  The  visit  backfired  when  Gleason  wrote  a  letter 
to  the  American  Citizen  revealing  Stuart's  machinations  and  bit- 
terly attacking  him.  He  declared: 

Now  he  is  fooled,  for  I  cant  lie  for  him,  after  being  rode  and  made  a 
cripple  of  by  his  lies,  I  cant  vote  for  him.  I  defy  him  and  the  Michigan 
Central  Railroad  Company  to  fetch  an  illegal  act  of  mine,  done  to  him 
or  that  company. 

Gleason  went  on  to  proclaim  the  innocence  of  all  the  defendants 
and  the  falsity  of  the  charges  against  them.  "And  you  (Stuart) 
know  it  .  .  .  ,"  he  concluded,  "and  if  you  are  an  honest  man,  you 
will  come  out  and  tell  the  truth.  That  we  ask  at  your  hands  before 
we  can  vote  for  you."  Stuart's  supporters  were  more  successful  in 
getting  a  letter  from  Orlando  Williams,  still  serving  his  ten-year 
sentence,  urging  his  friends  to  work  for  the  Democrat,  because  if 
elected  he  would  get  a  pardon  for  the  prisoners.  Stuart  won  the 
election  because  Wayne  and  Livingston  counties  gave  him  large 
majorities,  but  Jackson  County  went  to  Howard,  even  though  it 
gave  Franklin  Pierce,  the  Democratic  presidential  candidate,  a 
majority  over  Winfield  Scott.  Of  course,  many  Jackson  County 
voters,  who  shared  some  of  Abel  F.  Fitch's  antislavery  sentiments, 
also  voted  for  Howard  because  he  freely  expressed  such  views.  In 
the  next  congressional  election,  in  1854,  Stuart  was  soundly  beaten 
by  Howard,  who  this  time  ran  as  a  candidate  of  the  newly  organized 
Republican  Party.^^ 

[  106] 

The  campaign  for  a  pardon  for  at  least  three  of  the  prisoners 
against  whom  there  had  been  little  or  no  incriminating  evidence 
came  to  a  climax  when  the  legislature  met  in  January,  1853. 
Governor  Robert  McLelland  had  been  favorably  considering  the 
petition  presented  the  previous  fall  and  was  awaiting  the  session 
to  issue  a  pardon.  Additional  petitions  from  almost  one  thousand 
legal  voters  of  Oakland  and  Jackson  counties  were  presented  to 
the  House  and  Senate  requesting  a  pardon  for  the  "Central  Rail- 
road prisoners."  Joy  himself,  faced  with  mounting  attacks  in  the 
legislature  on  the  company's  monopolistic  privileges,  finally  saw 
the  wisdom  of  pardoning  some  of  the  "conspirators."  He  and 
Superintendent  Brooks  had  talked  to  three  of  them  in  jail  and 
gotten  assurances  from  them  that,  if  pardoned,  they  would  not  re- 
new their  attacks  on  the  railroad.  Joy  realized,  too,  how  tenuously 
implicated  in  the  crime  these  men  had  been  and,  above  all,  that  a 
pardon  "would  have  a  tendency  to  obliterate  those  feelings  which 
unhappily  seem  to  prevail  to  a  considerable  extent  in  that  portion 
of  the  state  against  the  company."  At  this  point,  progress  bogged 
down  in  the  political  jockeying  connected  with  the  fight  in  the 
legislature  between  the  Michigan  Central  and  Michigan  Southern 
forces.  A  special  committee  of  the  House  had  been  appointed  to 
consider  the  numerous  petitions  and  report  on  them.  The  com- 
mittee, in  a  move  to  embarrass  the  governor  and  the  Michigan 
Central,  issued  a  report  attacking  the  entire  prosecution  of  the 
conspiracy  case  and  presented  a  resolution  recommending  a  pardon 
for  all  the  "conspirators."  A  motion  to  adopt  the  report  and  the 
resolution  and  print  five  hundred  copies  was  passed  39  to  23.  On 
reconsideration,  however,  the  house  reversed  itself  and  laid  the 
matter  on  the  table  by  a  vote  of  46  to  20.  There  the  matter  rested, 
until  March  4,  when  Governor  McLelland,  just  before  resigning 
to  take  up  his  post  as  Secretary  of  the  Interior  in  Pierce's  cabinet, 
issued  a  pardon  for  Farnham,  Erastus  Champlin,  and  Smith.  In 
support  of  his  actions  the  governor  cited  the  following:  the  favor- 
able application  of  the  Michigan  Central  Railroad  and  its  attorney, 
James  F.  Joy;  the  recommendation  of  David  Stuart  and  prominent 
citizens  of  Jackson  County;  the  petitions  of  more  than  2,500  cit- 
izens; and  finally,  the  good  behavior  of  the  prisoners.^^ 

After  the  prison  gates  had  swung  open  for  the  first  three  "con- 
spirators," the  pardon  of  the  rest  soon  followed.  Governor  Andrew 

[  107  ] 

Parsons,  McLelland's  successor,  pardoned  one  prisoner  in  October, 
1853,  and  five  more  in  December,  1854.  The  reasons  he  gave  were 
essentially  the  same  as  McLelland's:  the  petition  of  thousands  of 
people,  the  request  of  prominent  citizens  of  Jackson  County  as  well 
as  David  Stuart  and  the  attorney  of  the  Michigan  Central,  plus 
the  recommendation  of  the  jury  that  had  convicted  them.  The 
governor  also  cited  "the  deep  interest  which  reliable  men  of  all 
parties  and  interests  have  taken  in  these  cases,  and  the  general  pre- 
vailing opinion  that  the  ends  of  justice  have  been  fully  met."  Ammi 
Filley  and  Orlando  Williams,  who  had  received  the  longest  sen- 
tences, had  to  wait  for  their  freedom  until  the  victorious  Repub- 
lican governor,  Kinsley  S.  Bingham,  came  into  office.^^ 

The  policy  of  conciliation,  thus  begun  in  1853,  also  included 
the  payment  of  indemnities  to  some  of  the  defendants  who  had 
been  acquitted  at  the  trial.  Before  authorizing  this  step,  Joy  had 
a  thorough  investigation  made  to  be  sure  that  none  of  them  had 
been  guilty  of  any  offenses  against  the  railroad  property  or  had  any 
guilty  knowledge  of  such.  And  when  Wilbur  F.  Storey,  editor 
of  the  Democratic  Jackson  Patriot.who  had  made  the  investigation, 
further  assured  him  that  "the  effect  on  the  public  mind  would  be 
salutary,"  Joy  made  some  financial  restitution  to  them  "for  the 
lost  time  and  other  sacrifices  arising  from  their  arrest  and  de- 
tention." He  was  careful  to  insist,  however,  that  this  action  was 
entirely  gratuitous  and  that,  as  of  right,  these  men  were  not  en- 
titled to  any  compensation.^^ 

It  was  at  this  time,  too,  that  Joy  entered  into  the  arrangement 
with  Senator  Moses  A.  McNaughton  of  Jackson  to  act  as  his  secret 
representative  and  adviser  in  matters  involving  the  railroad  in 
Jackson  County.  McNaughton,  it  is  important  to  note,  was  not  an 
administration  Democrat  but  a  Free  Soiler  who  joined  the  fusion 
Republican  Party  the  following  year,  and  his  employment  reflected 
the  company's  growing  concern  with  the  political  revolution  then 
going  on  in  Michigan.  McNaughton,  it  will  be  recalled,  arranged 
for  the  dropping  of  the  case  against  Phelps.  He  had  also  urged  on 
Joy  the  wisdom  of  procuring  a  pardon  for  the  "conspirators"  solely 
as  a  matter  of  policy,  to  mollify  public  feeling.  After  the  first  par- 
dons had  been  issued,  the  senator  also  furthered  the  railroad's  new 
policy  of  conciliating  the  opposition  by  arranging  with  De  Land, 
the  antirailroad  Whig  editor  of  the  Jackson  American  Citizen,  to 

[  108  ] 

publish  a  favorable  article  or  two  in  his  newspaper  in  return  for 
a  payment  of  fifty  dollars.  "With  the  ready"  McNaughton  assured 
his  employer,  "I  can  do  anything  I  please."  ^'^ 

The  pardon  of  the  conspirators  and  the  payment  of  indemnities, 
if  meant  to  assuage  outraged  sentiments  of  neighborly  loyalty  and 
blunt  the  charges  of  injustice,  were  something  less  than  effective. 
The  old  hurt  continued  to  rankle,  and  a  lively  hatred  of  the  Mich- 
igan Central  still  flourished  in  Leoni  in  1854.^"^  The  policy  of 
conciliation  also  failed  because  the  feeling  against  the  railroad 
had  become  something  more  than  local  resentment  over  the  per- 
secution of  the  innocents.  It  had  burgeoned  once  more  into  a 
widespread  opposition  to  the  company  as  a  monopoly  which  still 
refused  to  pay  fairly  for  the  cattle  its  trains  killed,  which  fixed 
higher  rates  for  short  hauls  than  for  long,  and  which  prevented 
new  and  necessary  railroads  from  being  built  in  the  state.  Tangled 
in  this  skein  of  the  antimonopoly  movement  was  the  feud  between 
the  Michigan  Central  and  its  rival,  the  Michigan  Southern  Rail- 
road, itself  a  giant  corporation  using  every  political  and  economic 
weapon  to  attack  and  gain  an  advantage  over  its  competitor.  Out  of 
this  juncture  of  interests  and  ideals  emerged  the  movement  for 
the  enactment  of  a  general  railroad  incorporation  law  to  break 
the  power  of  the  Michigan  Central  Railroad. 

The  demand  that  the  railroad  be  made  to  pay  for  damages  to 
property  was  heard  again  when  the  legislature  met  in  1853.  As  a 
public  meeting  in  Birmingham  stated  in  a  resolution:  "It  is  the 
duty  of  the  law-making  powers  of  the  state  to  provide  a  code  of 
laws,  which  will  enable  the  most  humble  citizen  to  obtain  his  just 
right  of  property  against  incorporated  wealth."  Shoemaker's  old 
bill,  defeated  in  1851,  providing  for  a  minimum  of  protection  of 
property  along  the  line  of  the  railroads,  was  introduced  again. 
This  time,  it  was  the  House  that  passed  the  bill,  with  only  one  dis- 
senting vote,  while  the  Senate  turned  it  down.  Not  until  1855, 
when  the  legislature  was  under  the  control  of  the  Republicans, 
were  laws  passed  requiring  the  Michigan  Central  and  the  Michigan 
Southern  railroads  to  take  safety  measures  at  all  crossings  and  fence 
the  right  of  way  and  making  the  companies  liable  for  all  cattle 
killed  until  the  fences  were  erected.^s 

Criticism  of  the  high  freight  rates  that  the  Michigan  Central 
charged  farmers  along  its  line  also  continued  to  be  heard  and  led 

[  109  ] 

to  a  renewed  demand  for  the  construction  of  a  branch  line  between 
Jackson  and  Adrian  as  the  only  way  of  bringing  down  the  rates. 
Businessmen  and  investors  of  Jackson  who  were  financially  inter- 
ested in  the  Grand  River  Valley  Railroad,  which  they  hoped  would 
open  up  the  interior  of  the  state  north  of  the  Central  Railroad 
and  make  Jackson  a  commercial  center,  also  advocated  the  con- 
struction of  the  Jackson  branch  in  order  to  connect  their  proposed 
line  from  Grand  Rapids  to  Jackson  with  Adrian,  Toledo,  and  the 
East.  And  all  efforts  were  now  concentrated  on  getting  the  Mich- 
igan Southern  to  build  the  Jackson-Adrian  link,  as  it  was  legally 
required  to  do  by  its  charter,  but  to  no  avail.  The  American  Citizen 
faithfully  supported  the  campaign  through  1852  and  warned  that 
if  the  line  were  not  built,  "the  Central  Company  [could]  still  filch 
the  life  blood  from  the  business  veins  of  the  community  and  op- 
press and  imprison  and  martyr  our  citizens  at  will."  Not  until 
the  spring  of  1853  did  the  directors  of  the  Southern  Railroad  agree 
to  undertake  the  construction  of  the  Jackson  branch,  but,  as  will 
presently  appear,  entirely  for  their  own  reasons.  Amos  Root,  a 
Jackson  merchant  and  big  investor  in  the  Grand  River  Valley  Rail- 
road, who  was  now  a  member  of  the  lower  house  of  the  legislature, 
was  the  leading  spirit  behind  the  negotiations  and  finally  got 
Elisha  Litchfield,  one  of  the  Southern  directors,  to  give  his  word 
that  the  line  would  be  built  in  three  years.  Litchfield  insisted, 
however,  that  his  company  be  given  without  cost  the  right  of  way 
extending  ten  miles  south  of  Jackson.  The  eager  promoters  agreed 
and  three  of  them  immediately  gave  personal  bonds  in  the  amount 
of  $15,000  to  secure  the  right  of  way.  They  started  to  buy  up  the 
necessary  land,  opened  books  for  the  sale  of  additional  Southern 
Railroad  capital  stock  to  finance  the  project,  and  advertised  for 
bids  on  construction  material.  At  this  point,  the  venture  ran  head- 
on  into  the  opposition  of  the  Michigan  Central,  whose  agents 
bought  up  strategic  parcels  of  land  along  the  proposed  right  of  way. 
This  obstacle,  too,  was  finally  overcome  and  the  land  was  secured, 
though  at  a  cost  of  about  $5,000  greater  than  planned,  and  several 
hundred  men  were  put  to  work  grading  the  right  of  way.  To  rally 
public  support  to  the  venture  and  raise  additional  funds,  plans 
were  made  to  hold  a  large  mass  meeting  in  Jackson  on  August  20, 
On  the  appointed  day,  two  thousand  citizens  met  at  the  court- 


house  in  Jackson,  with  delegates  attending  from  Lenawee,  Hills- 
dale, Ingham,  Eaton,  Barry,  Ionia,  and  Jackson  counties.  Speeches 
and  resolutions  all  strongly  demanded  the  construction  of  the  Jack- 
son branch  and  the  Grand  River  Valley  Railroad.  The  courthouse 
rang  with  attacks  on  the  monopoly  maintained  by  the  Michigan 
Central  for  its  own  benefit  and  that  of  the  city  of  Detroit  at  the 
expense  of  the  farmers  of  central  Michigan.  Singled  out  for  attack 
were  the  measures  taken  by  the  Central  Railroad  to  prevent  the 
construction  of  the  Jackson  branch,  which,  it  was  declared,  were 
cause  enough  for  the  forfeiture  of  the  company's  charter.  It  was 
resolved,  too,  that  if  the  two  proposed  lines  could  not  be  built 
under  the  existing  special  charters,  the  people  should  seek  passage 
of  a  general  railroad  law  by  the  terms  of  which  any  group  of  in- 
vestors could  build  any  lines  they  wished  and  could  finance.  The 
meeting  closed  with  the  appointment  of  a  committee  on  permanent 
organization  to  carry  on  the  good  fight,  another  to  raise  additional 
funds,  and  a  third  to  see  the  governor  about  the  forfeiture  of  the 
Michigan  Central's  charter.^oo 

The  company  did  not  wait  long  to  take  countermeasures.  Within 
the  week,  Superintendent  Brooks  and  Joy  filed  a  bill  of  chancery  in 
the  Wayne  County  Circuit  Court  in  Detroit,  complaining  that 
the  construction  of  the  Jackson  branch  without  their  consent 
violated  the  terms  of  the  company's  charter  and  would  tap  its 
business  and  destroy  its  profits,  and  asking  for  an  injunction  to 
halt  the  work  on  the  proposed  line.  In  support  of  the  plea,  the  bill 
cited  section  5  of  the  company's  charter,  which  provided  that  no 
railroad  could  be  built  from  the  eastern  or  southern  boundary  of 
the  state,  any  part  of  which  came  within  five  miles  of  the  line  of 
the  Michigan  Central.  The  defense,  representing  the  Michigan 
Southern  and  the  backers  of  the  Jackson  branch,  argued  a  pre- 
liminary motion  that  the  suit  should  not  have  been  brought  in 
Wayne  County  but  in  Jackson  County,  where  the  alleged  violation 
had  taken  place.  After  this  motion  was  denied,  the  defense  went  on 
to  argue  that  the  Michigan  Southern  was  only  doing  what  it  was  re- 
quired by  its  charter  to  do,  that  is,  complete  the  line  from  Adrian 
to  Jackson.  Judge  Samuel  Douglass  maintained,  however,  that  the 
actions  of  the  defendants  were  clearly  in  conflict  with  the  charter 
of  the  Michigan  Central  and  in  his  decision  ruled  in  favor  of  the 
complainants  and  granted  the  injunction.  The  work  on  the  Jack- 

[  111  ] 

[    112    ] 

[  1^3] 

son  branch  was  thus  effectively  stopped  and  its  promoters  could 
now  look  forward  only  to  a  general  railroad  law  for  relief.^"^ 

The  directors  of  the  Michigan  Southern  had  come  perforce  to 
the  same  conclusion.  The  two  rival  railroads  had  entered  Chicago 
in  the  spring  of  1852  and  were  engaged  in  a  running  fight  to 
capture  the  through  east-west  traffic.  Joy  and  Brooks  labored 
mightily  to  gain  an  overland  connection  through  Canada  with 
Buffalo  and  the  East  to  match  the  Southern's  lake  shore  line.  Late 
in  1852,  the  Southern  carried  the  fight  to  the  enemy  by  seeking  an 
amendment  to  its  charter  allowing  it  to  extend  its  line  from  Mon- 
roe to  Detroit.  Such  a  line  would  tap  the  Central's  business  and 
feed  it,  through  the  already-built  Monroe-Toledo  spur,  into  the 
Southern's  through  route  from  Chicago  to  Buffalo.  When  the 
Southern  presented  its  petition  to  the  legislature  in  1853,  J<^y  ^'^' 
mediately  wheeled  his  minions  into  line  against  it.  The  Detroit 
Free  Press  attacked  the  proposal  as  a  blow  to  the  commercial  inter- 
ests of  Detroit  and  a  boon  only  to  the  through  shippers  of  other 
states.  The  lawmakers  took  no  action  and  gave  Joy  time  to  counter- 
attack with  a  petition  for  an  amendment  to  the  Michigan  Central's 
charter  to  build  its  own  line  from  Detroit  to  Toledo  via  Monroe. 
Faced  with  a  deadlock  in  its  efforts  to  get  into  Detroit  from  Toledo 
by  an  amendment  to  its  charter,  the  Southern  Railroad  shifted  its 
tactics  and  once  again  swung  behind  the  movement  for  the  passage 
of  a  general  railroad  incorporation  law.^02 

Sentiment  for  such  a  law  was  steadily  growing.  Its  popularity 
was  reflected  in  Governor  McLelland's  annual  message  to  the 
legislature  in  1853.  The  Democratic  governor  recommended  the 
passage  of  the  law  because  "the  growing  necessities  and  increasing 
business  of  the  state  require  the  construction  of  new  lines  of  rail- 
roads." The  problem  of  amending  the  special  charters  to  extend 
and  change  the  lines  of  the  existing  roads,  he  added,  could  also 
be  met  by  a  general  law.  And  even  the  correspondent  of  the  Free 
Press  reported  from  Lansing  that  most  of  the  members  of  the  legis- 
lature were  in  favor  of  the  law  in  order  "to  open  the  way  for  the 
full  competition  of  capital"  and  thus  bring  cheaper  rates  and 
other  benefits.1^3 

When  Joy  heard  from  his  agents  in  Lansing  that  the  Southern 
Railroad  was  pushing  the  general  railroad  law,  he  marshaled  all 
his  forces  once  again  to  oppose  it.  In  January,  1853,  the  Southern's 

[  114] 

agents  organized  a  large  public  meeting  in  Detroit  to  support  the 
law,  as  the  only  way  to  give  Detroit  a  connection  with  Toledo.  Joy 
himself  and  his  colleagues  appeared  in  person  to  counteract  the 
move,  but  the  Southern  supporters  gained  the  day  and  a  favorable 
resolution  was  passed.  The  second  day,  however,  Joy  and  Van  Dyke 
were  successful  in  getting  the  meeting  to  reverse  itself  and  approve 
a  resolution  opposing  a  general  railroad  law  and  endorsing  an 
independent  line  to  Toledo.  Subsequently,  the  two  rivals  arranged 
meetings  in  other  parts  of  the  state  to  support  their  respective 
positions.  The  Free  Press  ran  a  series  of  long  articles  which  argued 
that  the  law  was  detrimental  to  the  interests  of  Detroit  and  would 
encourage  unhealthy  speculative  ventures.  The  upshot  of  all  these 
moves  and  countermoves  as  well  as  legislative  intrigues  was  a  vic- 
tory for  the  Michigan  Central  forces.  The  House  passed  the  law  but 
it  was  lost  in  the  shuffle  of  unfinished  business  in  the  Senate.  It  was 
at  this  point  that  the  Southern  Railroad  agreed  to  build  the  Jack- 
son branch  in  a  flanking  attack  on  their  rivals,  only  to  see  this 
effort  too  stopped  by  the  courts.^o^ 

The  victory  of  the  Michigan  Central,  however,  was  only  tem- 
porary, for  the  tide  was  running  strongly  against  it.  The  supporters 
of  the  general  railroad  law  greeted  the  setback  in  the  legislature 
with  charges  that  it  had  fallen  victim  to  the  rapacity  of  the  Central 
Railroad  and  that  Detroit  and  the  railroad  had  defeated  the  wishes 
of  the  rest  of  the  people  of  the  state.  They  resumed  the  agitation 
at  the  end  of  1853  with  a  series  of  public  meetings  in  Detroit  and 
Adrian  culminating  in  another  great  mass  meeting  in  Jackson  on 
December  28.  At  these  meetings.  Governor  Andrew  Parsons  was 
requested  to  call  a  special  session  of  the  legislature  to  act  on  the 
general  railroad  law  in  accordance  with  the  wishes  of  the  people. 
The  governor  managed  to  resist  the  pressure,  explaining  that  there 
was  no  urgency  in  having  the  law  passed,  since  the  state  of  the 
money  market  was  such  that  no  new  railroads  could  be  built  at 
this  time  anyway.i^^ 

By  1854,  even  the  Free  Press  was  admitting  editorially  that  most 
of  the  people  wanted  a  general  railroad  law.  And  the  issue  became 
one  of  the  ingredients  in  the  bubbling  political  cauldron  in  the 
state.  The  Free  Soil  Democrats,  meeting  in  convention  in  Jackson 
on  February  22,  1854,  wrote  into  their  platform  a  plank  on  state 
affairs  which  called  for  a  prohibition  law,  free  schools,  and  a  "gen- 

[  115] 

eral  law  under  which  capital  may  be  associated  and  combined  for 
the  prosecution  of  works  of  public  improvement  and  of  various 
industrial  pursuits."  The  Detroit  Daily  Democrat,  the  Free  Soil 
organ,  later  spelled  this  out  to  mean  that  the  party  favored  a 
general  railroad  law.  When  the  merger  between  the  Free  Soil  Dem- 
ocrats and  the  antislavery  Whigs  took  place  the  following  July 
under  the  oaks  in  Jackson,  the  platform  of  the  new  Republican 
Party  also  demanded  the  passage  of  such  a  law.  This  plank  was 
not,  however,  adopted  without  opposition.  Jacob  M.  Howard,  of 
Detroit,  chairman  of  the  resolutions  committee,  presented  the 
majority  report  of  the  committee  to  the  convention  which  said 
nothing  of  a  general  railroad  law.  It  was  Austin  Blair  of  Jackson, 
also  a  member  of  the  committee,  who  presented  a  minority  report 
embodying  planks  on  state  affairs  calling  for  reform  in  the  ad- 
ministration of  the  state's  finances  and  a  general  railroad  law.  This 
last  resolution  stated:  "that  in  our  opinion  the  commercial  wants 
of  the  State  require  the  enactment  of  a  general  railroad  law,  which, 
while  it  shall  secure  the  investment,  and  encourage  the  enterprise, 
shall  also  guard  and  protect  the  rights  of  the  public  and  of  in- 
dividuals .  .  ."  Blair's  resolutions  were  considered  too  radical  by 
the  sixteen  members  of  the  committee  and  had  not  been  accepted. 
When  Blair  presented  his  minority  report  to  the  convention  at 
large,  the  chairman,  David  S.  Walbridge  of  Kalamazoo,  considered 
by  some  a  tool  of  the  Michigan  Central,  refused  to  put  the  question 
to  a  vote.  Trying  to  bury  the  resolutions,  he  unceremoniously  left 
the  chair  and  started  for  his  hotel  before  the  convention  had  ad- 
journed. Angry  delegates  pursued  him,  brought  him  back  and 
forced  him  to  put  the  question,  which  was  then  carried  by  a  large 
majority.  Two  months  later,  the  Democratic  state  convention  also 
included  a  plank  for  a  "judiciously  framed"  general  railroad  law 
in  its  platform.1^6 

Although  both  parties  had  officially  come  out  in  support  of  the 
general  railroad  law,  the  issue  was  overshadowed  in  the  ensuing 
campaign  by  the  heated  arguments  over  slavery.  In  Jackson,  how- 
ever, the  American  Citizen  repeatedly  urged  the  election  of  Austin 
Blair,  who  was  running  for  the  Senate  on  the  Republican  ticket, 
as  a  true  supporter  of  such  a  law.  It  declared  that  the  election 
would  decide  whether  Michigan  would  have  the  law  or  not  and 
accused  the  Democrats  of  giving  it  only  sham  support.^or 

[  116] 

When  the  Republicans  swept  the  state  in  November,  the  way 
was  cleared  for  the  passage  of  the  law  in  the  new  legislature.  Even 
Governor  Parsons,  in  his  last  message  before  going  out  of  office, 
now  recommended  the  law.  The  new  governor,  Kinsley  S.  Bingham, 
claimed  in  his  inaugural  address  that  the  law  was  demanded  by 
nearly  unanimous  public  sentiment  and  was  necessary  for  the  rapid 
development  of  the  state's  economic  resources.  Austin  Blair,  now 
the  majority  leader  in  the  Senate,  introduced  the  bill  and  managed 
its  progress  through  the  upper  house.  In  a  last  ditch  stand,  James 
A.  Van  Dyke,  now  counsel  for  the  Michigan  Central,  presented  a 
memorial  to  the  Senate,  opposing  the  law  and  claiming  that  it 
violated  the  terms  of  the  company's  charter  by  allowing  competing 
railroads  to  be  built.  He  argued  that  the  company  had  paid  two 
million  dollars  to  the  state,  not  for  the  mere  physical  property  and 
tangible  assets,  but  for  the  valuable  but  intangible  monopoly 
privileges.  If  the  state  was  weary  of  the  contract  into  which  it  had 
entered,  he  queried,  why  did  it  not  repurchase  the  railroad  at  the 
terms  provided  in  the  charter?  The  Senate  ignored  Van  Dyke's 
appeal  and  passed  the  bill  unanimously.  Before  the  month  was  out, 
it  had  passed  the  lower  house  too  and  become  law.^^^^ 

The  new  law  was  certainly  no  panacea  for  Michigan's  railroad 
problems.  It  did,  however,  register  adequately  contemporary 
thought  on  this  important  economic  issue.  Under  its  terms,  any 
group  of  investors  who  met  the  minimum  conditions  could  secure 
a  charter  and  organize  a  corporation  to  build  and  operate  a  rail- 
road. Railroad  companies  thus  received  the  same  privileges  that 
had  been  extended  to  plank  road,  telegraph,  and  mining  com- 
panies in  1851  and  to  all  manufacturing  enterprises  in  1853.  Al- 
though the  state  thereby  relinquished  in  large  part  the  right  to 
direct  economic  enterprise,  it  did  not  abandon  its  right  to  regulate 
such  activities.  It  is  significant  that  the  opposition  to  the  general 
railroad  law  had  not  been  based  on  the  principle  of  laissez  faire 
but  on  the  practical  arguments  that  it  favored  the  Michigan  South- 
ern Railroad  and  thus  harmed  the  interests  of  Detroit.  Only  Van 
Dyke  had,  when  it  was  already  too  late,  brought  up  the  issue  of 
breach  of  contract.  And  the  regulations  written  into  the  new  law, 
though  relatively  ineffective  because  little  or  no  means  of  enforce- 
ment were  provided,  were  positive  enough.  All  new  railroads 
organized  under  the  act  were  required  to  install  such  safety  meas- 

[  117  ] 

ures  as  bells  on  locomotives,  a  steam  whistle  to  be  sounded  before 
all  grade  crossings,  "stop,  look,  and  listen"  signs  at  the  crossings, 
fences  along  the  right  of  way,  and  special  farm  crossings  with  cattle 
guards  where  necessary.  Maximum  passenger  fares  were  fixed, 
though  at  the  high  rate  of  three  cents  a  mile.  The  legislature  was 
also  given  the  right  to  reduce  all  rates  but  not  to  an  extent  that 
would  produce  less  than  a  15  per  cent  annual  return  on  capital 
stock  paid  in.^°^ 

The  passage  of  the  law  in  1855  was  followed  in  short  order  by 
the  construction  of  the  new  lines  previously  proposed.  The  Jackson 
branch  was  completed  to  Manchester  within  the  year  and  to  Jack- 
son in  1857  under  the  auspices  of  the  Southern  Railroad,  by  then 
known  as  the  Michigan  Southern  and  Northern  Indiana.  The 
Grand  River  Valley  Railroad  was  completed  in  1870.  Stockholders 
of  the  Southern  Railroad  also  organized  the  Detroit,  Monroe  and 
Toledo  Railroad  which  connected  its  two  termini  in  1857.  But 
the  much  hoped  for  competition  between  the  two  major  rival  lines 
did  not  materialize.  In  1857,  the  Michigan  Central  and  the  Mich- 
igan Southern  and  Northern  Indiana  entered  into  an  agreement 
to  pool  all  through  passenger  and  freight  traffic  on  a  percentage 

After  the  passage  of  the  general  railroad  law,  public  agitation 
and  antagonism  faded  temporarily  in  the  sequel  of  war  and  boom, 
to  revive  again  in  the  crisis  of  the  1870's.  And  time  and  circum- 
stance removed  the  chief  actors  in  the  great  railroad  conspiracy 
from  the  scene.  Some  of  the  key  witnesses  at  the  trial  met  sorry  ends. 
Phelps,  who  had  been  given  a  job  on  the  railroad,  went  to  Texas 
and  was  killed  in  a  brawl,  while  Wescott  died  in  Dearborn  of 
delirium  tremens.  Wolliver  succumbed  in  an  Illinois  jail  where  he 
was  serving  time  for  highway  robbery.  Lake  saw  the  inside  of  Jack- 
son prison  again  before  he  passed  on.m 

Quite  different  fates  befell  the  railroad  officials  and  lawyers. 
Superintendent  Brooks  relinquished  control  of  the  operations  of 
the  Michigan  Central  and  moved  upstairs  to  the  presidency,  and 
he  and  Joy  turned  their  organizing  efforts  further  west.  Darius 
Clark  was  rewarded  with  an  appointment  as  general  ticket  agent 
of  the  Michigan  Central  Railroad  in  New  York  City.  He  returned 
to  the  state  once  but  was  quite  reticent  about  the  part  he  had  played 
in  convicting  the  "conspirators."  Van  Dyke  became  one  of  the 

[  "8] 

lawyers  for  the  Michigan  Central  in  1852,  while  Van  Arman  left 
for  Chicago  in  1858  and  was  there  appointed  to  the  legal  staflE  of 
the  Chicago,  Burlington  and  Quincy  Railroad,  which  Joy  and 
Brooks  had  such  a  large  part  in  organizing  and  promoting.1^2 

Most  of  the  defendants  returned  to  their  homes  to  spin  out  their 
lives  in  welcome  obscurity.  But  Ammi  Filley,  embittered  and 
restless,  shook  the  dust  of  Leoni  from  his  heels  and  moved  to 
Illinois  and  then  to  Nebraska,  where  he  died  in  the  i88o's.ii3 

In  Jackson  County,  however,  the  great  railroad  conspiracy  re- 
mained a  focus  of  resentment  that  was  elaborated  in  the  course  of 
time  into  a  legend  of  injustice  and  heroism.  A  directory  of  the 
city  of  Jackson,  published  in  1869,  recorded  that  the  people  had 
outlived  the  unhappy  effects  of  the  railroad  troubles,  "though  the 
convictions  in  the  minds  of  the  surviving  parties  as  to  who  was 
right  and  who  wrong,  remain  now  about  the  same  as  then."  When 
a  Jackson  newspaper  in  later  years  retold  the  story  of  the  arrests 
and  trial,  it  concluded  the  account  with  a  touch  becoming  an  an- 
cient epic:  "And  thus  were  the  ends  of  justice  defeated  and  money 
and  power  and  villainous  craft  triumphed  over  innocence  and 
helplessness."  By  that  time,  the  Michigan  Central  had  become  "a 
growing  and  thriving  corporation"  which  had  made  mistakes 
"which  wiser  members  in  sober  moments  have  acknowledged  and 
deplored  ..."  The  spies,  Phelps,  Gay,  Wescott,  and  Lake,  were  the 
villains  in  this  morality  play  and  on  them  the  writer  poured  his 
wrath.  As  for  Fitch,  he  wrote: 

Abel  F.  Fitch  died  a  crushed  and  heart-broken  but  guileless  man,  and 
an  honest  Christian  gentleman.  The  fact  that  the  prisoners  were  all 
pardoned  at  the  suggestion  of  the  railroad  company  and  their  lawyers, 
that  a  tender  of  damages  was  made  to  them  after  being  released,  and  that 
the  witnesses,  to  this  day,  all  stand  convicted  for  perjury,  is,  of  itself, 
vindication  enough  for  all.^* 

By  1881,  the  gray  of  truth  had  darkened  into  the  black  myth 
of  villainy.  A  history  of  the  county  published  in  that  year  told  the 
story  of  how  the  spies,  "disreputable  scoundrels  .  .  .  cowards  and 
villains . . .  reptiles,"  had  failed  to  discover  any  of  the  culprits  who 
had  been  obstructing  the  tracks  and  had  resolved  to  swear  to  any- 
thing to  collect  the  reward  offered  by  the  railroad  company.  They 
had  set  fire  to  the  depot  in  Detroit  and  then  had  sworn  that  inno- 
cent citizens  living  sixty  miles  away  had  hired  one  of  them  to  do  it. 

[  "9] 

At  the  trial,  these  scoundrels  had  been  "willing  instruments  in  the 
hands  of  the  railroad  company"  and  one  unprincipled  lawyer, 
Van  Arman,  who  coached  them  in  the  art  of  perjury.^^^ 

Colonel  De  Land,  onetime  editor  of  the  Jackson  American 
Citizen,  in  his  history  of  Jackson  County  compiled  in  1903,  re- 
peated the  same  story.  He  inveighed  against  the  villainy  of  the 
railroad's  agents  and  spies  and  assured  the  world  "that  their  victims 
were  in  prison  for  a  crime  they  never  committed,"  And  concluded 
his  tale  thus:  "A  beautiful  marble  monument  stands  over  the  grave 
of  Captain  Fitch  and  the  story  is  still  told  of  the  wickedness  of 
his  taking  off."  ^^^ 

[  120  ] 


*  Most  of  the  research  for  this  book  was  made  possible  by  a  grant  from  the 
Committee  on  the  Study  of  Midwestern  Life  and  History,  of  Michigan  State 
College.  The  author  also  wishes  to  acknowledge  the  aid  and  cooperation  of 
the  following:  the  officials  of  the  New  York  Central  System  in  Detroit  and  New 
York  who  allowed  unrestricted  use  of  the  records  of  the  Michigan  Central 
Railroad,  and  particularly  Mr.  Robert  Barrie  of  the  Detroit  office;  Mrs.  El- 
leine  H.  Stones  and  her  assistants  at  the  Burton  Historical  Collection  in  the 
Detroit  Public  Library;  Dr.  F.  Clever  Bald,  assistant  director  of  the  Michigan 
Historical  Collections  at  the  University  of  Michigan;  the  librarians  of  the 
Michigan  State  Library  and  the  Law  Library  in  Lansing,  and  of  the  public 
libraries  of  Jackson,  Marshall,  Adrian,  and  Grand  Rapids;  the  county  clerk 
of  Jackson  County  for  permission  to  consult  the  county  records;  and  finally, 
Harry  Brown,  Madison  Kuhn,  and  John  A.  Garraty  of  Michigan  State  College, 
who  read  and  criticized  the  manuscript. 

For  the  general  accounts  of  the  great  railroad  conspiracy,  see  Michigan  as  a 
Province,  Territory  and  State.  .  .  .  3:319-24  (New  York,  1906);  Silas  Farmer, 
The  History  of  Detroit  and  Michigan,  1:900  (Detroit,  1884);  Alvin  F.  Harlow, 
The  Road  of  the  Century,  223-24  (New  York,  1947);  History  of  Jackson 
County  .  .  .  ,  (Chicago,  1881);  Charles  V.  DeLand,  DeLand's  History  of  Jack- 
son County.  .  .  .  ,  153-60,   (n.p.  1903). 

^  For  the  early  history  of  railroads  in  Michigan  see  Harlow,  The  Road  of  the 
Century,  chapter  10;  "James  F.  Joy  Tells  How  He  Went  into  the  Railroad 
Business,"  in  the  Detroit  Free  Press,  May  1,  1892,  reprinted  in  the  Michigan 
Historical  Collections,  22:  297-304    (Lansing,  1894). 

^Report  of  the  Directors  of  the  Michigan  Central  Railroad  to  the  Stock- 
holders, June,  18^1,  31  (Boston,  1851);  Memorandum  Book,  unpaged,  in  the 
Law  Library  of  the  New  York  Central  System,  Detroit. 

*  "Annual  Report  of  the  Board  of  Internal  Improvements  1845,"  Michigan 
Joint  Documents,  1846,  number  4:  11    (Lansing,  1846). 

*Niles  Republican,  June  2,  16,  August  25,  1849;  John  Gilbert,  "The  Great 
Conspiracy,"  in  the  Michigan  Historical  Collections,  31:234  (Lansing  1902); 
George  Sedgwick  to  John  W.  Brooks,  May  12,  1849,  Charles  Vail  to  John  W. 
Brooks,  May  11,  1849,  in  Letters  Received  Superintendent's  Office,  Michigan 
Central  Railroad,  May,  1849,  volume  11,  in  the  Archives  of  the  New  York 
Central  System,  Detroit;  Detroit  Daily  Free  Press,  June  21,  1849;  E.  Lakin 
Brown,  "Autobiographical  Notes"  in  the  Michigan  Historical  Collections, 
30:491-92    (Lansing,  1906). 

°  Marshall  Statesman,  June  13,  1849;  Marshall  Democratic  Expounder, 
August  17,  1849;  Charles  O.  Hoyt  and  R.  Clyde  Ford,  John  D.  Pierce,  Founder 
of  the  Michigan  School  System,  134-36  (Ypsilanti,  1905). 

[    121    ] 

'  The  account  of  the  conflict  between  the  farmers  of  Jackson  County  and  the 
Michigan  Central  Railroad  is,  unless  otherwise  specified,  based  on  the  evidence 
taken  and  the  addresses  made  at  the  trial  of  the  Jackson  County  farmers, 
which  are  to  be  found  in  Report  of  the  Great  Conspiracy  Case:  The  People 
of  the  State  of  Michigan  versus  Abel  F.  Fitch  and  Others,  Commonly  called 
the  Railroad  Conspirators  .  .  .  ,  3  parts  (Detroit,  1851),  hereafter  cited  as 
Report;  and  in  George  R.  Lilibridge,  Report  of  the  Conspiracy  Trial  in  the 
Wayne  County  Circuit  Court  .  .  .  (Detroit,  1851),  hereafter  cited  as  Lili- 
bridge. These  two  transcripts  of  the  proceedings  at  the  trial  differ  somewhat 
and  have  been  used  to  supplement  each  other. 

''Grass  Lake  Public  Sentiment,  March  1,  1854. 

®  De  Land,  History  of  Jackson  County,  153. 

'Detroit  Daily  Advertiser,  June  19,  1849;  Grass  Lake  Public  Sentiment, 
March  1,  1854. 

^°  "Sketch  of  the  Life  and  Experience  of  Charles  H.  Frisbie,  for  Forty-seven 
Years  a  Locomotive  Engineer,"  in  C.  H.  Salmons,  The  Burlington  Strike,  473 
(Aurora,  Illinois,  1889).  Frisbie  was  an  engineer  on  the  Michigan  Central 
Railroad  in  the  1840's  and  1850's. 

""Sketch  of  Frisbie"  in  Salmons,  The  Burlington  Strike,  471-72;  Report, 
part  1:70;  Detroit  Daily  Free  Press,  June  21,  1849. 

^  Minutes  of  Directors'  Meeting,  Michigan  Central  Railroad,  DecemTier  24, 
1849,  in  the  Archives  of  the  New  York  Central  System,  Detroit;  John  Murray 
Forbes  to  Joshua  Bates,  August  17,  1850,  in  Letter  Book  Michigan  Central 
Railroad,  in  the  Archives  of  the  New  York  Central  System,  New  York;  Detroit 
Daily  Free  Press,  July  3,  1849. 

"  Criminal  Docket  County  Court  Jackson  County,  1848-1856,  26,  27,  in 
the  county  clerk's  vault,  Jackson  County  Building,  Jackson;  Benjamin  F. 
Burnett  to  editor,  Ypsilanti  Sentinel,  April  27,  1851,  cited  in  the  Jackson 
American  Citizen,  May  7,  1851;  Grass  Lake  Public  Sentiment,  March  1,  1854. 

"Grass  Lake  Public  Sentiment,  March  1,  1854. 

"De  Land,  History  of  Jackson  County,  84,  101,  108,  155,  426;  Jackson 
County  Land  Records,  Deeds,  liber  1-6,  passim,  in  Land  Record  Office,  Jack- 
son County  Building;  Jackson  County  Circuit  Court  Docket,  1838,  in  the 
county  clerk's  vault,  Jackson  County  Building;  History  of  Jackson  County, 
402;  County  Canvass  1850,  1851,  in  Election  Returns  1849-1852,  in  the 
county  clerk's  vault,  Jackson  County  Building;  Jackson  American  Citizen, 
April  9,  1851;  United  States  Census  1850,  Population  Schedules  for  Mich- 
igan, volume  4,  Jackson  County,  Leoni  Township,  118,  microfilm  in  Michigan 
State  Library,  Lansing;  Report,  part  2:67,  68;  part  3:  231-32. 

^^  Grass  Lake  Public  Sentiment,  May  15,  1853;  Abel  F.  Fitch  to  [Mrs.] 
Amanda  Fitch,  March-June  1851,  passim,  microfilm  copy  at  Michigan  State 
College  of  the  originals  in  Michigan  Historical  Collections,  Ann  Arbor; 
Charles  E.  Barnes,  "Battle  Creek  as  a  Station  on  the  Underground  Railway," 
in  the  Michigan  Historical  Collections,  38:282  (Lansing,  1912);  Jackson  Ameri- 
can Citizen,  October  6,  1850,  April  9,  1851;  Detroit  Daily  Free  Press,  April  26, 
1851;  Detroit  Daily  Tribune,  May  22,  1851. 

^"  Fitch  to  Mrs.  Fitch,  March  21,  May  14,  1851. 

[   122   ] 

^  Fitch  to  Mrs.  Fitch,  March  21,  1851. 

"United  States  Census  1850,  Michigan,  volume  4,  Jackson  County,  Grass 
Lake  Township;  De  Land,  History  of  Jackson  County,  276;  History  of  Jackson 
County,  334. 

-"De  Land,  History  of  Jackson  County,  404;  Life  and  Adventures  of  Wil- 
liam Filley  (Chicago,  1867);  United  States  Census  1850,  Michigan,  volume  4, 
Jackson  County,  Leoni  Township,  118. 

^  According  to  Mr.  Orrin  Blackman  of  Jackson,  the  building  now  standing 
on  the  northeast  comer  of  the  New  York  Central  Railroad  crossing  at  Mich- 
igan Centre  is,  with  some  additions  and  alterations,  the  original  tavern  that 
stood  there  in  1850. 

^  "Sketch  of  Frisbie,"  in  Salmons,  The  Burlington  Strike,  474. 

®  Gilbert,  "The  Great  Conspiracy,"  in  the  Michigan  Historical  Collections, 
31:236;  Harmon  L.  Spa[u]lding  to  John  W.  Brooks,  September  13,  1850,  in 
Letters  Received  Superintendent's  Office,  September,  1850,  volume  29. 

^Detroit  Daily  Free  Press,  June  7,  1850;  Report,  part  3:  98. 

^Ann  Arbor  Michigan  Argus,  July  16,  1851. 

^De  Land,  History  of  Jackson  County,  154. 

"Marshall  Statesman,  June  13,  1849;  Marshall  Democratic  Expounder, 
August  17,  1849. 

^"Annual  Message  of  the  Governor  1846"  in  the  Joint  Documents  of  the 
Senate  and  House  of  Representatives,  1846,  p.  27  (Detroit,  1846);  History  of 
Jackson  County,  477;  John  W.  Brooks,  Reply  to  a  Communication  from 
Mitchell  Hindsill  Esq.  and  Others  of  Kalamazoo  Concerning  Comparative 
Rates  of  Transportation  of  Freight  over  the  Michigan  Central  Railroad  (De- 
troit, 1848);  Jackson  American  Citizen,  September  19,  October  24,  November  7, 
14,  December  5,  1849,  January  2,  1850. 

^Jackson  American  Citizen,  March  12,  September  24,  1851;  Harlow,  The 
Road  of  the  Century,  253;  Adrian  Michigan  Expositor,  March  18,  1851;  Senate 
Documents  1850,  number  33:  2  (Lansing,  1850);  House  Documents  1851,  num- 
ber 9:  3    (Lansing,  1851). 

^  Michigan  Reports,  2  Gibbs  259-60;  Jackson  American  Citizen,  September  24, 
1851;  Ann  Arbor  Michigan  Argus,  July  16,  1851. 

^^  Michigan  Reports,  2  Gibbs  261. 

^^  For  a  discussion  of  this  development  in  another  state,  see  Oscar  and  Mary 
F.  Handlin,  Commonwealth:  A  Study  of  the  Role  of  Government  in  the 
American    Economy:    Massachusetts,    1^^4-1861,    194,    261-62     (New    York, 


^  Hoyt  and  Ford,  John  D.  Pierce,  135;  Report  of  the  Proceedings  and 
Debates  of  the  Convention  to  Revise  the  Constitution  of  the  State  of  Mich- 
igan, i8$o,  29,  30  (Lansing,  1850);  Debates  and  Proceedings  of  the  Consti- 
tutional Convention  of  the  State  of  Michigan,  i86j,  1:145,  146  (Lansing, 
1867);  James  V.  Campbell,  Outline  of  the  Political  History  of  Michigan,  538- 
39   (Detroit,  1876);  Detroit  Daily  Free  Press,  February  11,  1853. 

**  Report  of  the  Proceedings  and  Debates,  18^0,  29,  30,  586-go,  734. 

^Portrait  and  Biographical  Album  of  Jackson  County,  Michigan,  189  (Chi- 
cago, 1890);  Detroit  Daily  Free  Press,  February  17,  1851;  House  Journal  1850, 
520,  710    (Lansing,    1850);   House  Journal  1851,   104,  574    (Lansing,   1851); 

[   123  ] 

Senate  Journal  1850,  262,  470  (Lansing,  1850);  Senate  Journal  i8$i,  20,  69, 
422    (Lansing,  1851);  House  Documents  1851,  number  14    (Lansing,  1851). 

^Report,  part  1:  135,  136,  152;  part  3:  245;  Lilibridge,  79;  Fitch  to  Mrs. 
Fitch,  March  21,  1851;  Darius  Clark  to  John  W.  Brooks,  March  21,  1851,  in 
Letters  Received  Superintendent's  Office,  March  1851,  volume  35;  James  F. 
Joy  to  George  F.  Porter,  March  2,  1850,  in  Joy  Manuscripts,  transcripts  in  the 
Michigan  Historical  Collections;  Adrian  Michigan  Expositor,  March  18,  1851. 

*' Detroit  Daily  Free  Press,  March  10,  March  25,  April  2,  1851;  Adrian 
Michigan  Expositor,  April  9,  1850;  Senate  Journal  iS^i,  234,  305. 

^  Gilbert,  "The  Great  Conspiracy,"  in  the  Michigan  Historical  Collections, 
31:235;  Marshall  Statesman,  December  5,  1848;  Michigan  Biographies,  1:172 
(Lansing,  1914);  Fitch  to  Mrs.  Fitch,  May  11,  1851;  Report,  part  3:  76. 

^»  Clark  to  Brooks,  August  17,  August  22,  August  30,  1850,  in  Letters  Re- 
ceived Superintendent's  Office,  August  1850,  volume  28;  Henry  G.  Pearson, 
An  American  Railroad  Builder:  John  Murray  Forbes,  37,  38,   (Boston,  1911). 

^  Clark  to  Brooks,  August  22,  November  1,  2,  1850,  in  Letters  Received 
Superintendent's  Office,  August,  1850,  volume  28,  November,  1850,  volume 
31;  Grass  Lake  Public  Sentiment,  March  15,  1854. 

*^  Report,  part  3:  44-45;  Fitch  to  Mrs.  Fitch,  May  6,  1851. 

*^  Clark  to  Brooks,  August  15,  17,  1850,  in  Letters  Received  Superintendent's 
Office,  August,  1850,  volume  28;  Report,  part  2:  86-87. 

^  Clark  to  Reuben  N.  Rice,  March  15,  1851;  Clark  to  Brooks,  March  29, 
1851,  in  Letters  Received  Superintendent's  Office,  March,   1851,  volume  35. 

**  Criminal  Docket  County  Court  Jackson  County,  1848-1856,  83;  Jackson 
American  Citizen,  November  13,  1850. 

«>  Clark  to  Brooks,  February  26,  March  21,  1851;  James  F.  Joy  to  Reuben  N. 
Rice,  February  26,  1851;  James  F.  Joy  to  Brooks,  March  28,  1851,  in  Letters 
Received  Superintendent's  Office,  February,  1851,  volume  34,  March  1851, 
volume  35;  Laws  of  Michigan,  1851,  number  128. 

"Clark  to  Brooks,  February  26,  1851,  in  Letters  Received  Superintendent's 
Office,  February,  1851,  volume  34. 

*' Detroit  Daily  Advertiser,  November  20,  1850;  Detroit  Daily  Free  Press, 
June  7,  1851;  Report,  part  2:  7. 

^  See  footnotes  45  and  46. 

**  Detroit  Daily  Advertiser,  April  21,  22,  1851;  Detroit  Daily  Free  Press, 
April  21,  1851;  Niles  Republican,  April  26,  1851;  Gilbert,  "The  Great  Con- 
spiracy," in  the  Michigan  Historical  Collections,  31:237-38. 

^°  Fitch  to  Mrs.  Fitch,  April  21,  1851;  Detroit  Daily  Advertiser,  April  26,  28, 
1851;  Jackson  American  Citizen,  May  7,  1851. 

^Report,  part  2:  140;  part  3:  163,  388;  Wayne  County  Circuit  Court  Crim- 
inal Calendar,  November  26,  1847,  to  February  23,  1878,  numbers  1632-36, 
in  Wayne  County  Courthouse,  Detroit;  Law  Papers,  Wayne  County  Circuit 
Court,  case  number  4971,  in  Wayne  County  Courthouse,  Detroit;  Detroit  Daily 
Advertiser,  April  25,  30,  June  5,  1851;  Jackson  American  Citizen,  May  7,  1851. 

^The  account  of  the  trial  is,  unless  otherwise  specified,  based  on  the  two 
reports  of  proceedings  cited  in  note  6;  Detroit  Daily  Tribune,  April  29,  1851. 
The  author  has  searched  through  the  records  in  the  Wayne  County  Circuit 
Court  record  room  but  the  original  papers  in  this  trial  were  not  to  be  found. 

[    124  ] 

'^Report,  part  3:  93,  94;  Jackson  American  Citizen,  September  3,  1851; 
Charles  I.  Walker,  "The  Detroit  Bar,"  in  the  Michigan  Law  Journal,  2:9 
(January,  1893). 

^*  Fitch  to  Mrs.  Fitch,  May  11,  1851;  Detroit  Daily  Advertiser,  May  15,  17, 
1851;  Detroit  Daily  Tribune,  May  16,  1851. 

^Detroit  Daily  Advertiser,  April  21,  May  2,  7,  1851;  Detroit  Daily  Free 
Press,  April  21,  May  26,  1851;  Detroit  Daily  Tribune,  April  25,  26,  28,  May  3, 
1851;  Jackson  American  Citizen,  April  30,  May  14,  1851. 

^Report,  part  3:  163;  Adrian  Michigan  Expositor,  June  3,  1851;  Detroit 
Daily  Advertiser,  May  26,  1851. 

"Detroit  Daily  Free  Press,  April  29,  1851;  Fitch  to  Mrs.  Fitch,  May  14, 
1851;  Jackson  American  Citizen,  May  7,  1851. 

^Jackson  American  Citizen,  September  3,  1851;  Detroit  Daily  Free  Press, 
May  30,  1851;  Fitch  to  Mrs.  Fitch,  May  11,  1851. 

™  Fitch  to  Mrs.  Fitch,  May  18,  May  25,  June  1,  1851;  Frederick  Bancroft, 
Life  of  William  H.  Seward,  1:181  (New  York,  1900);  Jackson  County  Mort- 
gages, liber  10,  401,  in  Land  Record  room,  Jackson  County  Building.  Seward's 
fee  was  secured  by  a  mortgage  on  Fitch's  land,  which  was  discharged  in  1855. 

*°  Fitch  to  Mrs.  Fitch,  May  6,  May  11,  1851. 

®^The  occupations  of  the  jurors  were  ascertained  in  Farmer,  History  of 
Detroit  and  Michigan,  volume  i,  using  the  index;  Shove's  Business  Advertiser 
and  Detroit  Directory  for  1852-18$^  (Detroit,  1852);  Fitch  to  Mrs.  Fitch, 
May  30,  1851. 

'^  Fitch  to  Mrs.  Fitch,  April  21,  22,  May  6,  1851. 

**  Fitch  to  Mrs.  Fitch,  May  6,  14,  18,  1851. 

**  Fitch  to  Mrs.  Fitch,  May  11,  14,  25,  1851. 

**  Fitch  to  Mrs.  Fitch,  May  6,  14,  18,  June  1,  1851;  Detroit  Daily  Advertiser, 
May  22,  1851. 

*^Law  Papers,  Wayne  County  Circuit  Court,  case  number  4971,  4976. 

«^  Fitch  to  Mrs.  Fitch,  May  18,  1851. 

^*  Fitch  to  Mrs.  Fitch,  May  25,  June  29,  1851;  Henry  Frink  and  William  A. 
Howard  to  Brooks,  July  7,  1851,  in  Letters  Received  Superintendent's  Office, 
July,  1851,  volume  39. 

^^  Anson  De  Puy  Van  Buren,  "Sketches,  Reminiscences,  and  Anecdotes  of 
the  Old  Members  of  the  Calhoun  and  Kalamazoo  County  Bars,"  in  the  Mich- 
igan Historical  Collections,  11:281  (Lansing  1888);  Cyrenius  P.  Black,  "Legal 
Reminiscences  of  Forty  Years,"  in  the  Michigan  Historical  Collections,  35:138- 
39   (Lansing,  1907). 

™Lucien  B.  Proctor,  "William  H.  Seward  as  a  Lawyer,"  in  the  Albany  Law 
Journal,  35:284-89  (April  9,  1887);  Bancroft,  Life  of  Seward,  1:184;  Worth- 
ington  C.  Ford,  ed..  Letters  of  Henry  Adams  (i8$8-iSpi),  62  (Boston,  1930); 
Detroit  Daily  Tribune,  August  25,  1851. 

"Fitch  to  Mrs.  Fitch,  June  20,  29,  August  1,  12,  1851. 

"Detroit  Daily  Tribune,  August  25,  1851. 

■^Jackson  American  Citizen,  August  27,  September  3,  1851. 

'*  Joy  to  Brooks,  August  26,  1851,  in  Letters  Received  Superintendent's  OfiBce, 
August,  1851,  volume  40. 

''"Matilda  Freeland  to  Andrew  J.  Freeland,  August  25,  1851,  transcripts  of 

[   125] 

original  letters,  in  Michigan  Historical  Collections;  Jackson  American  Citizen, 
July  16,  August  27,  September  3,  October  1,  1851. 

''^Michigan  Christian  Herald,  August  28,  1851;  Detroit  Daily  Tribune, 
August  8,  15,  23,  25,  1851. 

"Jackson  American  Citizen,  September  3,  1851. 

''^  Jackson  American  Citizen,  September  17,  1851. 

'» Jackson  American  Citizen,  September  3,  1851. 

«» Grass  Lake  Public  Sentiment,  December  1,  12,  1853. 

81  Detroit  Daily  Tribune,  August  15,  23,  25,  1851;  Jackson  American  Citi- 
zen, August  6,  September  3,  October  15,  1851;  Detroit  Daily  Advertiser,  July  29, 
1851;  Gilbert,  "The  Great  Conspiracy,"  in  the  Michigan  Historical  Collections, 
31:238;  E.  Lakin  Brown,  "Autobiographical  Notes,"  in  the  Michigan  Historical 
Collections,  30:491. 

^Detroit  Daily  Free  Press,  September  4,  November  7,  1851;  Detroit  Daily 
Tribune,  September  16,  1851;  J.  W.  Donovan,  Modern  Jury  Trials  and  Advo- 
cates, third  revised  edition,  116  (New  York,  1885).  The  closing  arguments 
were  interrupted  for  a  week,  September  18-25,  because  of  a  juror's  illness. 
The  addresses  of  Stuart  and  William  A.  Howard  have  not  been  preserved. 

*^J.  N.  W.,  "William  H.  Seward  at  the  Bar,"  in  the  Albany  Law  Journal 
35:399  (May  14,  1887);  Proctor,  "Seward  as  a  Lawyer,"  in  the  Albany  Law 
Journal  35:285.  Parts  of  Seward's  closing  address  were  reprinted  in  school 
elocution  books. 

8*  Detroit  Daily  Tribune,  September  25,  26,  1851;  Jackson  American  Citizen, 
October  1,  15,  1851;  Detroit  Daily  Advertiser,  September  27,  1851;  Niles 
Republican,  October  4,  1851. 

*«  Detroit  Daily  Advertiser,  October  11,  1851;  Detroit  Daily  Free  Press, 
November  7,  1851;  Jackson  American  Citizen,  October  1,  15,  November  26, 

^  Joy  to  Brooks,  October  2,  1851  in  Letters  Received  Superintendent's  Office, 
October,  1851,  volume  42. 

^Farmer,  History  of  Detroit,  1:900;  Detroit  Daily  Advertiser,  January  24, 
1852,  January  24,  1854. 

*«  Grass  Lake  Public  Sentiment,  May  2,  1853. 

^Jackson  American  Citizen,  June  9,  October  6,  1852,  April  6,  1853;  Crim- 
inal Docket  County  Court  Jackson  County,  1848-1856,  124;  William  Norris 
to  Reuben  N.  Rice,  October  4,  1852,  in  Letters  Received  Superintendent's 
Office,  October,  1852,  volume  54;  Grass  Lake  Public  Sentiment,  December  10, 
1853;  Moses  A.  McNaughton  to  Joy,  March  22,  25,  1853;  Van  Dyke  to  Joy, 
April  22,  1854,  in  Joy  Manuscripts,  transcripts  in  the  Michigan  Historical 

8°  Moses  A.  McNaughton  to  Joy,  March  25,  1853,  in  Joy  Manuscripts, 
transcripts  in  the  Michigan  Historical  Collections;  Grass  Lake  Public  Senti- 
ment, January  1,  15,  February  1,  March  15,  July  i,  September  1,  1853;  Jackson 
American  Citizen,  November  30,  1853,  August  16,  1854;  De  Land,  276,  290. 
*i  Marshall  Democratic  Expounder,  October  10,  1851;  Jackson  American 
Citizen,  October  1,  29,  November  5,  12,  26,  1851;  Grass  Lake  Public  Senti- 
ment, April  1,  1853;  George  B.  Cooper  to  Brooks,  October  1,  1851  in  Letters 

[   126  ] 

Received  Superintendent's  Office,  October,  1851,  volume  42;  Detroit  Daily 
Free  Press,  November  7,  1851;  Detroit  Daily  Advertiser,  October  9,  10,  No- 
vember 4,  6,  1851;  Election  Returns,  1849-1857,  in  County  Clerk's  OEBce, 
Jackson  County  Building,  Jackson. 

*2  Jackson  American  Citizen,  October  6,  20,  November  3,  24,  December  29, 

1852,  March  9,  1853;  Early  History  of  Michigan:  Biographies  of  State  Officers 
.  .  .  ,  360  (Lansing,  1888). 

*^  Jackson  American  Citizen,  January  26,  March  9,  1853;  Joy  to  Unknown, 
January  8,  1853  in  Joy  Manuscripts,  transcripts  in  the  Michigan  Historical  Col- 
lections; House  Journal  185^,  83,  136,  165,  185,  273,  322,  342,  375,  376 
(Lansing,  1853);  Senate  Journal  i8j},  185  (Lansing,  1853);  Michigan  Joint 
Documents  18^4,  number  1:  47   (Lansing,  1854). 

**  Michigan  Joint  Documents  18^4,  number  1:  36,  46;  House  Documents 
iSyj,  number  20:  1,  7   (Lansing,  1857).  Aaron  Mount  died  in  jail. 

*^  Wilbur  F.  Storey  to  Joy,  January  12,  1853,  in  Joy  Manuscripts,  transcripts. 

*®  Moses  A.  McNaughton  to  Joy,  February  23,  March  15,  1853,  in  Joy  Manu- 
scripts, transcripts. 

^Michigan  as  a  Province,  Territory  and  State,  3:321. 

**  Grass  Lake  Public  Sentiment,  July  1,  1853;  House  Journal  18^^,  367; 
Senate  Journal  18$^,  303;  Laws  of  Michigan  18^5,  number  82,  138,  139. 

*®  Jackson  American  Citizen,  September  24,  October  8,  November  5,  1851, 
February  25,  May  5,  1852,  April  6,  August  10,  17,  September  14,  1853;  Marshall 
Democratic  Expounder,  October  17,  1851;  Portrait  and  Biographical  Album  of 
Jackson  County,  Michigan,  732    (Chicago,  1890). 

^•^ Jackson  American  Citizen,  August  24,  1853;  Detroit  Daily  Free  Press, 
August  24,  1853;  Adrian  Michigan  Expositor,  August  23,  1853;  Adrian  Daily 
Watchtower,  August  26,  1853. 

^'*  Jackson  American  Citizen,  August  31,  September  14,  November  30,  De- 
cember 21,  1853;  Adrian  Daily  Watchtower,  September  1,  1853;  Detroit  Daily 
Free  Press,  December  2,  1853;  Report  of  a  Case  .  .  .  in  the  Circuit  Court  of 
the  County  of  Wayne,  entitled  the  Michigan  Central  Railroad  Company  versus 
the  Michigan  Southern  Railroad  Company,   (Detroit,  1853). 

^°2  Detroit  Daily  Free  Press,  January  13,  15,  17,  1853;  Adrian  Michigan 
Expositor,  November  16,  1852. 

^"^  Detroit  Daily  Free  Press,  January  7,  22,  1853. 

^'^  J.  R.  Williams  to  Joy,  January'  15,  1853;  C.  C.  Jackson  to  Joy,  January  20, 

1853,  in  Joy  Manuscripts,  transcripts;  Detroit  Daily  Free  Press,  January  24, 
25,  26,  28,  February  2,  3,  11,  March  3,  1853;  Detroit  Daily  Advertiser,  January  21, 
22,  24,  26,  1853;  Jackson  American  Citizen,  February  9,  1853;  House  Journal 
i8y^,  353;  Senate  Journal  18$^,  356. 

^•^ Jackson  American  Citizen,  February  16,  1853,  January  4,  1854;  Adrian 
Michigan  Expositor,  February  22,  1853,  January  3,  1854;  Detroit  Daily  Ad- 
vertiser, January  4,  1854;  Detroit  Daily  Free  Press,  December  28,  29,  30,  1853, 
January  11,  1854. 

^•^  Detroit  Daily  Free  Press,  January  12,  September  15,  1854;  History  of 
Jackson  County  .  .  .  ,  328,  330;  William  Livingstone,  History  of  the  Repub- 
lican Party,  1:37,  41,  53  (Detroit,  1900);  De  Land,  178,  180;  Jackson  American 

[   127  ] 

Citizen,  July  6,  1854;  Albert  Williams,  "The  Republican  Party— The  True 
History  of  Its  Birth,"  in  the  Michigan  Historical  Collections,  28:480  (Lansing, 
1900);  Adrian  Michigan  Expositor,  July  15,  1854. 

^•"The  author  has  gone  through  the  files  of  the  Detroit  Free  Press  and 
Advertiser  for  July-November,  1854;  Jackson  American  Citizen,  October  4, 
11,  18,  November  1,  1854. 

^•^  Jackson  American  Citizen,  January  3,  10,  17,  31,  February  7,  1855;  Senate 
Journal  1855,  4,  51,  151;  House  Journal  18^5,  291;  Senate  Documents  i8$$, 
number  3. 

^'^  Laws  of  Michigan  iS$$,  number  82. 

""  Michigan  Railroad  Commission,  Aids,  Gifts,  Grants  and  Donations  to 
Railroads,  including  Outline  of  Development  .  .  .  ,  98-101  (Lansing,  1919); 
Farmer,  1:899. 

"^  Henry  Phelps  to  Darius  Clark,  December  9,  1851,  in  Letters  Received 
Superintendent's  Office,  December,  1851,  volume  44;  De  Land,  160;  Jackson 
American  Citizen,  September  8,  1852,  August  17,  1853. 

*^  Michigan  Historical  Commission,  Michigan  Biographies,  1:172;  Friend 
Palmer,  Early  Days  in  Detroit,  348,  350  (Detroit,  1906);  Farmer,  2:1037;  A.  T. 
Andrews,  History  of  Chicago,  2:468    (Chicago,  1885). 

^^  Life  and  Adventures  of  William  Filley,  13;  Michigan  Historical  Collec- 
tions, 4:270   (Lansing,  1883). 

^*  James  M.  Thomas,  Jackson  City  Directory  for  1869-yo,  97  (Jackson,  1869); 
History  of  Jackson  County  .  .  .  ,  449-50. 

"^History  of  Jackson  County  . .  . ,  446-49. 

^'De  Land,  153-60. 

[    128]